In order to pursue that exploration fruitfully, though, a couple of points need to be sorted out in advance. First of all, it’s crucial to get away from a certain bad habit of thinking that Vico and Barfield, the writers surveyed in last month’s post, both imposed on history: the notion that we can know what human consciousness was like at the very beginning of things. What the ancient Egyptians called the First Time exerts an extraordinary magnetism on the human imagination, and can make it very easy to forget just how long our species has been on this planet, and just how many changes it passed through before its earliest historical traces first come within our view.
Vico and Barfield both lost track of that, and claimed to be able to see how human beings must have thought in the First Time. Both of them, to be fair, had reasons for that mistake. Vico lived before modern geology had broken the grip of Biblical literalism, and the best historical scholarship accessible to him indicated that the world was less than six thousand years old. Given that assumption, it was entirely reasonable for him to assume that Greek, Roman, and other ancient civilizations were literally the first ever to arise on Earth, excepting only the antediluvian culture described early on in the Book of Genesis; the fact that he was dead wrong thus really wasn’t his fault.
Barfield’s case was somewhat more complex. By his time some sense of the real age of humanity and the planet had become fairly widespread, but ethnology and anthropology in the years when his ideas were formed still insisted on a linear model of cultural evolution every bit as rigid as the Biblical scheme that Vico used. In 19th and early 20th century European scholarship, all human societies, ancient and modern, were assigned fixed places along a line of progress that led straight up to modern white European men. In this scheme, all of the tribal societies in what’s now the Third World were put at the bottom, lumped in together with Neanderthals and the like, and sweeping pronouncements about “the primitive mind”—always in the singular—were drawn up on wholly ethnocentric grounds and imposed on every society, and every person, who had been assigned to the lowest rung of the ladder.
That imaginary “primitive mind” is the source of Barfield’s “original participation;” the ethnologists he cited in the pages of Saving the Appearances accepted the scheme I’ve just outlined, and so did he. That’s why, for example, he took cultural categories that don’t make sense in 20th century English terms—to name one of his examples, a special relation between a white cockatoo and the sun that was in some sense more important than the relation between a white cockatoo and a black one—as evidence that the people who thought that way must be engaged in some strange, primitive, pagan kind of thinking. Had he been so minded, he could have used this same example as evidence for just how powerfully the process of figuration shapes the universe of our experience, and just how arbitrary some of the culturally constructed aspects of human figurations can be; he could then have applied that logic to the habitual figurations of 20th century Englishmen, with useful results.
But he was not so minded. He was committed to a linear view of history, and in particular to the kind of linear view, still very popular today, that placed modern industrial humanity as the vanguard of the species, moving ahead of anyone else through the gateway that led to the final consummation of human destiny. By definition, therefore, every other culture has to be somewhere back along the route that leads to us, and no other culture could possibly have gotten to where we are before we did. That landed him in difficulties we don’t need to discuss here; the crucial point is that his “original participation” is a phantom, a projection of ethnocentric misunderstandings on the inkblot patterns of the distant past.
The same is true of every attempt to imagine the way human beings thought and felt and understood the world more than five thousand years ago. The stunning diversity of the human cultures that have risen and fallen during the relatively brief window since writing was invented should warn us against any attempt to impose a rigid scheme on the hundreds of millennia of forgotten societies before that time. Somewhere back there, a very long time ago, our ancestors evolved out of some older species of hominid which may not have had spoken language as we know it; somewhere even further back, the hominid lineage itself evolved out of something not that different from chimpanzees. We don’t know, and almost certainly will never know, anything about the stages and transformations of consciousness that accompanied that immense and prolonged process of evolutionary change.
Thus any description of what human consciousness was like in the early days of our species is a fable, not a fact. That’s one thing that has to be understood to make sense of the cycles I hope to describe here. The other thing that has to be grasped is that any description of where humanity is heading, along the lines of Barfield’s “final participation,” is equally fabulous. There’s a definite point to such fables, and it’s been traditional for a good long time to use them as a teaching tool in occult schools, but it always needs to be remembered—to quote a famous passage from Dion Fortune’s contribution to the genre—that these things are intended “to train the mind, not to inform it.”
The habit of mistaking fables for facts, and thinking that their value depends entirely on their truth or lack of same, is a common barrier to understanding what they have to teach. Often, furthermore, it’s a deliberate barrier, meant to function as what one of my teachers irreverently called a “flake filter,” a device for chasing off people who aren’t suited to occult training. It so happens that the same purposes can be accomplished by narratives that can inform as well as train the mind, and it’s been my repeated experience as a teacher of these matters that “flake filters” are easier to find than they once were—in particular, expecting students to study and understand a few dozen pages of text about, say, the shape of time is usually quite adequate. That’s why I’ve chosen to use the ordinary cycles of history as the frame for these essays, and why I plan on using the ordinary workings of ecology as a similar frame in a related context—but that’s a discussion for another time.
The key to the magical dimension of historical cycles lies in a detail of history that Vico and Barfield both grasped firmly: the fact that human beings don’t think the same way at one stage in the historical process as they do at other stages. Barfield’s claim was that all of humanity passes through a single process of change in consciousness, starting with his hypothesized “original participation” and ending in his equally hypothetical “final participation.” Vico’s, far more troubling to the modern mind, was that each nation goes through predictable changes in consciousness, and that modern societies are repeating the same stages that can be traced in the classical world. It’s always possible to claim that Barfield is right on the largest scale, since it’s possible to claim anything at all about that without risk of disproof, but in terms of time frames that are subject to verification, the facts support Vico instead.
There are various ways to talk about “the course the nations run,” the cycle of consciousness through which each society passes over the course of its history, but I’m going to use a few of Vico’s own examples here. As mentioned earlier, the earliest law codes in any civilization are specific, concrete lists of crimes and their punishments. The final law codes in any civilization you care to name are intricately crafted tissues of abstract reasoning. That movement from the concrete to the abstract, from the richly sensory image to the richly intellectual concept, is among the consistent features of the history of a civilization—and so is the collapse of abstraction in the final era of a civilization and its replacement by a newly concrete consciousness rooted, once again, in sensory images.
The movement from concrete to abstract consciousness that both Vico and Barfield understood in their own ways, and it’s one of the things that makes Barfield’s Saving the Appearances and his works on the history of language worth reading despite the Procrustean bed of linear time into which he forces his data. Take any word in modern English that has an abstract connotation—for example the word “abstract” itself. English got that word from Latin, and in Latin, its original sense is clear: ab- is a prefix meaning “from, away from, out of,” and traho is a verb meaning “to pull.” (A tractor, similarly, is something that pulls.) An abstraction is thus a set of perceptions that have been pulled out of their original setting amid the other details of everyday life, and turned into a concept. Put another way—and this will be crucial for our further work—an abstraction is a model of experience, created by cherrypicking certain features of that experience and treating those as the things that matter, while dismissing every other feature as secondary or irrelevant.
uman beings reason in categories, and the process of figuration discussed in earlier posts is largely a way of fitting the data of human sensation into whatever set of categories the individual in question has inherited from his or her biological, cultural, and personal past. Still, not all concepts are created equal. There are some concepts that are very close to sensory experience—“child,” “tree,” “sun,” “walk,” “quickly,” all refer back to things that can be perceived directly by the senses and can be called to mind in the form of clear mental images: that is, representations in the mind of remembered or imagined sensory experiences, visual or otherwise. There are also concepts that are much further away from sensory experience—“meaning,” “relationship,” “therefore,” “existence,” “consciousness” all refer to concepts assembled from other concepts, categories of categories.
We can call the first kind concrete concepts, and the second abstract concepts. There’s a continuum connecting them, created by repeated abstraction—that is to say, repeated construction of categories that moves further away from the concrete experience at its root. “Sally,” “girl,” “human,” “primate,” “mammal,” “animal,” and “life” are all descriptions of the same child playing in a sandbox; each movement further into abstraction allows something to be said about wider and wider circles of other concrete phenomena, which is what gives abstract thinking its power; at the same time, it allows less and less to be said accurately about those phenomena, which is what gives abstract thinking its vulnerability to delusion.
Now it so happens, as already pointed out, that civilizations start out thinking in concrete concepts. That’s true of their law codes and their literature, their political institutions and their practical arts, and every other dimension of their lives. In the earliest stage, the stage Vico called the barbarism of sense, those concrete concepts aren’t related to one another in any compelling way, and the result is chaos—mental chaos, but also cultural, social, and political chaos, because people who can’t assemble a meaningful world in their heads aren’t going to be able to do so in any more concrete sense either.
What puts an end to the barbarism of sense is the emergence of a pattern that reduces the cognitive chaos to order: not an abstract pattern, as the capacity for abstraction is just beginning to develop within the newborn culture, but a set of concrete mental representations charged with emotional force. The social form that gives context of this emergent pattern is a religion—one could as well say that the religion is the emergent pattern. North of the Mediterranean, for example, the representations around which a new society crystallized in the wake of Rome were the core images of Christianity. Images, not abstract concepts: what mattered in the post-Roman chaos was not abstract theology but the tremendous images of God born in a stable, wandering with his disciples in Galilee and Judea, dying a brutal death on the cross, emerging alive from the grave, and rising miraculously into the sky.
Thinking in the early stage of a civilization always centers on some such set of emotionally charged representations that bring order to the cognitive chaos of a fallen civilization. Such thinking differs in important ways from the sort of thinking that’s common nowadays, or more generally in the last centuries of any civilization. We think abstractly, analytically, sorting out our perceptions into one or another scheme of categories; people in dark ages think concretely, synthetically, relating their perceptions to one or another set of compelling images. Thus it never occurred to medieval authors to suggest that Christmas should be celebrated at the time of year when shepherds in Judea actually keep watch in the fields, as the Biblical narrative specifies. To the medieval mind, the birth of Christ and the winter solstice, when the first slight northward movement of the sun’s apparent path in the sky announces the return of light and life to the world, belong so self-evidently to the same synthetic pattern of imagery that mere history had no power to separate them.
The transition from the numinous, emotionally charged images that surround a civilization’s cradle to the finely wrought but passionless abstractions that gather around its deathbed takes place, broadly speaking, in three stages. It so happens that very often, those three stages are assigned distinct names by historians, which makes the process easy to trace. In the modern Western world, those three stages are called the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Modern Era; in the history of ancient Greece, they were the Archaic period, the Classical period, and the Hellenistic period, and so on. I propose to give them more general names, and since this is a blog about occult philosophy, I don’t propose to limit myself to the sort of dry nomenclature historians think they have to use these days. The names I’ll use for these periods are the time of the Unicorn, the time of the Phoenix, and the time of the Dragon.
Let’s take them one at a time. The unicorn, as I trust all my readers know, is the most elusive of beasts as well as the most magical. It moves silently through the greenwood, leaving only the very occasional mark of its cloven hooves to tantalize hunters, charcoal burners, and stray princesses. Here it represents the first phase of the life cycle of a civilization, which is similarly reticent about leaving records and other detailed traces in the soil of history, and is similarly full of magic. Unicorn Time is the age when emotionally charged representations of the sort just described dominate human consciousness, and as at least some of my readers will have guessed, such representations are central to the art of magic.
The phoenix is also a magical beast, but it is far less silent and elusive. There is only one phoenix at a time, and after a lifespan of five centuries or so, it builds a great nest in one of the desert cities of Egypt or Arabia, fashioning it out of scented woods and resins. Once it has finished the nest, it settles into it and waits for the rising of the Sun, which ignites the nest and burns nest and phoenix alike to ashes. In the ashes appears a worm, which eventually becomes the next phoenix. Phoenix Time is the age when concrete representations and abstract concepts are both strongly present in human consciousness, interpenetrate each other, and produce an exuberant cultural and intellectual flowering, which promptly burns itself out in a most phoenix-like fashion and gives way to the next phase.
The dragon is not a magical beast, except insofar as it enjoys adding magical objects to its hoard. In theory, a dragon could do just about anything it happens to want to do, but in practice, what it wants to do is gather a great heap of treasure and lie on it, sleeping or drowsily counting and sorting every last gold coin. It is a truly fearsome beast in its prime, capable of gulping down any number of second-string heroes, but despite the claims of certain popular songs, dragons don’t live forever, and sooner or later someone is going to leap boldly past the flames and drive a sharp point into its heart. Dragon Time is the age when abstract concepts, heaped up like gold in a dragon’s hoard, dominate human consciousness and suppress magic—for a time.
Take a few minutes to think about these three mythological images, and to relate them to the historical periods to which I’ve assigned them; among other things, you might just begin to grasp some sense of the power of emotionally charged mental representations as a tool of thinking. A unicorn has nothing abstract in common with the Middle Ages, say, or the Archaic period of ancient Greece, or the comparable periods in the histories of every other civilization: the heroic age, the age of legend and myth, where facts hide themselves in the deep forests and only the occasional track of a story or a place name shows where they passed by. Connect the two in your imagination, call upon the unicorn as a means of evocation, and you’ll find that certain aspects of the medieval experience are easier to grasp and remember than they otherwise would be.
Such representations and their effects on consciousness, as already noted, are central to the art of magic. That’s why magic always flourishes in a Unicorn age, intellectualizes itself in a Phoenix age, falls into disrepute in a Dragon age, and then springs up again with renewed vigor as the Dragon perishes on the Unicorn’s horn. Religion follows much the same trajectory, and for much the same reason: the meanings at the heart of religion are easy to communicate by way of emotionally charged concrete representations, and all but impossible to communicate by way of abstract concepts. Magic and religion are thus both dismissed as nonsense at the zenith of the Dragon’s reign, because neither one makes sense to minds that are trained solely in abstract modes of thinking.
Interestingly enough, that difficulty doesn’t work both ways. Concrete representations are inclusive to the point of tolerating incoherence—you can take things that are mutually contradictory and relate them to the same mental image without any sense of contradiction—while abstract concepts are exclusive precisely because they demand rational coherence. Thus the image of the world in Unicorn Time tends to be complete but inconsistent, while the image of the world in Dragon Time is consistent but incomplete: the monks of the Middle Ages, for example, had no difficulty making logic a part of their curriculum of study, while many scientists today can be reduced to spluttering fury by the mere suggestion that anything outside the strictest canon of rationalism has any value at all. The flexibility inherent in the monks’ attitude is one reason why Unicorn Time sees civilizations rise, just as the rigidity in that of the scientists is one reason why Dragon Time sees them fall.
A crucial shift in focus underlies this distinction. The characteristic thinking of every civilization’s Dragon Time becomes far more concerned with the relationship of abstractions to each other than it is with the relationship of those abstractions to the world of concrete experience. Where gaps open up between abstraction and experience, in turn, the thinkers of the latter years of Dragon Time tend to be more interested in explaining away the gaps than they are in adjusting the abstractions. A corpus of standard arguments typically evolves to help believers in the currently accepted set of abstractions argue away any experiences that might fail to do what they’re told.
Our age is as well equipped with such a corpus as any Dragon Time has ever been. In next month’s post, we’ll examine some of the standard arguments, as a prelude to the next phase of our exploration into occult philosophy.
A couple of discussions/ passages in books come to mind as I read this.
I recall a friend talking to me about a course she was doing on ethics and biology. The subject under discussion was the ethics of killing animals in a wildlife reserve. The subject was apparently very difficult to discuss without argument due to the insistence of “oh but is it our right to kill animals? what gives us that right?” As we can see, abstractions alone cannot explain a desire to want to look after the environment/ live alongside the natural environment. Love/ connection with nature is something that needs to appreciated through sensory experience. We cannot explain it in purely abstract/ rational terms (hence I would argue the failure of many environmental movements today on issues such as anthropogenic climate change. They try and argue everything rationally, but fail to understand rationality alone does not motivate people).
Another example. I once read a well meaning Historian who argued on the basis of 'GDP' that India was better off under British rule. A brief glance beyond the abstraction of GDP would of course tell a different story about India under British rule.
(P.S: my first time in a serious discussion about occult philospohy. hope i did ok! 🙂 )
That’s why, for example, he took cultural categories that don’t make sense in 20th century English terms—to name one of his examples, a special relation between a white cockatoo and the sun that was in some sense more important than the relation between a white cockatoo and a black one—as evidence that the people who thought that way must be engaged in some strange, primitive, pagan kind of thinking.
No, quite the opposite. Barfield took this as evidence that they experienced a different reality than we do, not that they thought about it differently. Further, he felt that in a certain sense, their way of experiencing was closer to reality than ours. He was rejecting the modernist mindset that labelled this as a “strange, primitive, pagan kind of thinking”.
I suddenly find myself with a dragon painting, a phoenix painting, and a unicorn painting in my palace of memory, on the right wall of the hallway to the North. Why there? I have no idea, except that the hallway to the south is crowded with memory images for learning Latin.
At the moment I'm reading Pitirim Sorokin's “Social & Cultural Dynamics” which is another model of cyclical history. Sorokin posits that civilisations alternate between “Ideational” and “Sensate” periods, the former religion-based in which experience is seen as unreal, a mere filter for a greater numinous reality behins it, and the latter a period where reality is only what can be concretely experienced.
I find his model more convincing than Spengler's, even if it's a slightly drier read. Here's Sorokin's take on what a Sensate society would look like. Although you might recognise it very well, bear in mind that this was written in the 1930's:
“A regime professing Sensate ideals will approve anything that increases the sum total of Sensate enjoyment; and that leads to man's control over nature and over other men, as the means of satisfying ever-expanding needs. Of a special importance in such a state of society is the search for material objects which under the circumstances are particularly efficient in bringing satisfaction. As one of the most efficient means has always been material wealth, in a Sensate society it is the Alpha and Omega of comfort, of the satisfaction of all desires, of power, prestige, fame, happiness. With it everything can be bought, everything can be sold, and everything can be gratified.
Therefore it can be comprehensible that the striving for wealth is inevitably one of the main acivities of such a culture, that wealth is the standard by which almost all other values are judged, that it is, in fact, the supreme value of values. Pecuniary value thus becomes the measuring stick of scientific, artistic, moral, and other values. Those who are wealthy are its aristocracy. They are simultaneously public leaders, high priests, moral examples, kings who ennoble others, the Four Hundred which is envied, if not deeply esteemed. Under these conditions, writers, artists, scientists, ministers, public officials, and men of the professional classes hope and act mainly to write a “best seller”, to obtain the best-paying position, to have the highest scale of remuneration, and so on. If arms and force, not money, are the means to maximum happiness, then these instruments are the supreme arbiters of value, instead of money.”
I'm reminded of an interview with Martin Prechtel in which he details some of the Mayan worldview (the interview stuck with me as this worldview so closely resonates with the one in my dreams.) The maya chose not to build certain tools because they recognized the spiritual cost of creation, of building. To build a knife without paying the spiritual cost in associated ritual would lead to that knife being misused (sort of the curse of the easy wishes offered by the monkey's paw.)
This feels of the time of the unicorn (or perhaps the phoenix.) In the time of the unicorn, the “stuff” of reality, the things we sense, and our experiences are sacred. The concrete makes up the worldview, and so the concrete IS the world and as such is not to be violated. In contrast, in the time of the dragon, the abstract makes up the worldview and is likewise the real world. This allows for the rampant destruction of the now devalued concrete reality. The dragons fire is a nice visual correlate of the drive – and in current times, the flames – of industry, of civilization humming along at it fastest trying to outrun its fall. Also, in dragon times destroying the concrete is actually a tool in the pursuit of coherence…
In the time of the unicorn, the time and the world itself are valuable, unicorns are inherently valuable. In the time of the dragon, the time and the world itself are obstacles to be slain in our pursuit of the abstract treasures they hold.
The phoenix is a transition. It is a time when the concrete is still related to the abstractions; and even as we destroy the concrete in pursuit of the abstract, we are able to grieve the loss as sacred passing.
Rich imagery for the mind to feast on.
It may be worth mentioning that black cockatoos, by and large are much more pleasant creatures than white cockatoos. The white cockatoos have an inherent sense of mischief and this is a significant differentiator in their behaviour. Incidentally, they both have a life span as long as that of an elderly human and perhaps even longer. The changes that the cockatoos would have seen to the land in only a generation or two would be something that I’d be interested to know, but may never get the chance.
I'm reasonably content now to not project my worldview onto cultures of the past. Interestingly too, the more I read of such things – especially local groups, the more hints and suggestions that emerge as to their sensibilities. Such insights have certainly changed the local environment and infrastructure here, but really who knows? It is simply easier to adapt to the world as it is, than to try and project your desires onto it.
Barfield's claims have an eerie feeling of the singularity about them, or am I imagining this?
Thanks for the explanation regarding abstract concepts and their vulnerability, I hadn't understood that before, but it seems obvious from hindsight.
As a suggestion, hoarding magic is possibly a negative thing for a culture and a good indication that things may be in decline. Your quote: “Magic and religion are thus both dismissed as nonsense at the zenith of the Dragon’s reign” left me pondering this, because it is not as if either energy (?) has actually gone away. Captured maybe, abused maybe, but disappeared – no.
Unicorn time is an excellent descriptive of the Dream time here as it incorporates everything within the world as well as bringing the past myths into the present every day experience.
On reflection it does seem rather weird that people can get so heated about abstractions, for after all, they're abstract by their very nature.
Oh yeah: “here gaps open up between abstraction and experience”. Yeah, try innocently mentioning herbal remedies to a doctor one day. Or companion planting to an agricultural scientist. The only thing I deduced from both experiences is that if outcomes fail to meet their world view, they have an ability to simply ignore. Inquiring minds, I think not…
Interesting stuff; I like the notion of a “flake filter.”
A completely minor nit on one of your examples: the human/chimpanzee Last Common Ancestor was probably much closer to an orangutang than to a modern chimp or bonobo. It was not, for example, a knuckle-walker; that trait developed independently in the chimp and gorilla lines. The wrist structure supporting knuckle-walking is entirely different in the two cases, and it's difficult to impossible to see how one could have evolved into the other.
Another stray thought: princesses seem to be heavily involved with unicorns and dragons, but I don't remember how they're related to the phoenix, if at all. Is the resurrection of the Princess motif in the current imagination another harbinger of the current age?
I have a favorite pair of wool socks that display a unicorn silhouette in white on a background of black-and-gray stripes. One day, a yoga student glimpsed the design during a private lesson and exclaimed: “Oh, cool socks! Are they dragons?”
I'm wearing those socks today, in fact. Happy Alban Elued to you JMG, and to all your readers. May this season bring you a splendid bounty of colorfully clashing representations, as well as the more ordinary forms of abundance.
Now that I've experienced three months of reading the articles and the comments on this blog, I'm perceiving a meta-commentary. Every time someone disagrees about JMG's understanding of an author or work, I giggle a little – thinking, “I wonder at the worldview of the commenter… what allowed them to perceive different meanings and themes from the same writing?”
This is even changing my daily interactions! I'm beginning to experience every disagreement as a skirmish in the war between man-olds, with us as the (often unwitting) players. If I squint just right, the players in spousal disputes and office arguments appear like Greek heroes thrown against one another as sport for the Gods.
Someone once told me that in order to truly understand a myth, you can’t just read it or hear it, you have to live it and immerse yourself in it at every level of your being. The stories that tend to have the most significance for me personally are the Irish and Welsh myths, which were the product of the migrant cultures of Eastern, Western, and Northern Europe entering into the cauldron in the wake of the fall of Rome and melting down into an eclectic blend of Norse, Classical, Christian, and indigenous Gaelic, Gallic, and Brythonic imagery then brushing up against the raw experiences of place, time, and thought. In those stories I can especially see that sense of stories that are complete but inconsistent, and the importance of that bit of advice. When you try to read those stories on their own, they can be jarring and difficult to make coherent sense of, until you change the way you approach them, and go from reading them to experiencing them. When you get to that point, a single word or image, or the history and shape of a single mythically significant landform gives the story a completely new meaning and shape. At that point you can spend years meditating on a single image or phrase, plunging new depths every time. When you try to read the myths and stories that come out of Unicorn time in a straight forward, intellectual way you soar right past the heart of the story and are left with nonsense. That ability to experience stories viscerally, to really step inside of them and treat them like living things to experience the narrative spirit at the core gets lost as civilizations fade. Is regaining that skill one of the goals of a magician living in an age of dragons?
Thank you for the continuing lesson here JMG. I find it's started to really grab my interest at the same time that my interest in the other blog is seriously waning (take it as a compliment, you've explained economic bubbles so well that if you explain one again, I'll go nuts).
As far as these ages go, I think even thinking about these past historical ages, using any three examples you care to name, will illustrate the concept quite nicely. If I start daydreaming about the time of Heroic Greece the images that come to my mind are gonna be fantastic concrete and highly emotionally charged. If I start daydreaming about modern times, it becomes rather dull and abstract as I'll start comparing various political systems and debt ratios, etc.
I'm going to jump for a moment to a practical experience of magic in my garden. 3 years ago I stopped planting summer squash as I was sick of it. The next year, I ended up short on my seedlings, so left one section of garden untended. A summer squash plant grew there from the seed left from the prior year's growth. That year I focussed on 3 different winter squashes, but after a bad experience of eating one before it had stored sufficiently, I was turned off squash altogether and planted no squash last year. Again, the next summer I was short of seedlings and a single squash plant — this time the safe acorn squash — grew there. This year, I planted no squash and, without any attempt at planning, somehow my seedlings fit exactly into my garden, with no corner left unturned. I expected no squash. In the meantime, in my back yard I finally had a spot to put in some blueberries, so started a lasagna garden of layered cardboard, leaves, fresh manure, hay, etc. Some months later I was rather surprised to see, peeking out from behind a very large burdock on the edge of the developing bed, what looked like a mutant ninja squash — huge leaves, easily 8 or 9 feet tall. I was even more surprised to find a large, soft green “soccer ball” of a squash. It's been identified for me as a hubbard squash — something I hadn't attempted to grow before. I suppose a bird dropped a seed there. But that it dropped seed which landed exactly where it needed in the one patch on my property where it could thrive, and that it happened to be a squash seed, fits my definition of magic…
More magical happenings. Having read your book quickly the first time through, I've set about collecting what I need to start practice. I spent some time perusing the internet in search of Ogham cards and selected a set that seemed correct and which had beautiful illustrations that drew me too them. After some weeks of waiting — the 1st order never shipped, I searched again and ordered the same cards this time a “used” (still in original packaging) from a different suppolier — they finally arrived. Imagine my surprise when I opened the book that accompanied them and there, on page 1, was praise from our own Archdruid JMG!
Thank you, JMG, for sharing your wisdom and direction.
At this stage I still feel very trapped in the dragons liar, raised in and tied up by abstractions that bind my thoughts to one another. Really it wouldn't be so bad, playing cats cradle with these threads of abstraction while the dragon slumbered in the other corner of the lair. But the smell of Dragon blood is becoming more and more vile. I think the Unicorn's horn landed, unheard, sometime ago and the Dragon doesn't seem to mind the slow seeping of blood, growing more and more groggy.
Someone was explaining to me the coral castle
and how it was made. I couldn't remember the details, but I noticed that he was using many terms native to abstract thinking in a way that made no sense… unless I recalled how the terms get thrown around in 'Saturday morning cartoon' Science Fiction.
The abstractions of out heritage are falling out of currency rather quickly I suspect. At The End of the Old Order we might be ready for the taxation policies of barbarians, but just how barbaric is the barbarism of sense?
Ray, in response to “just how barbaric is the barbarism of sense,” is a lovely quote from Spengler, Vol II pg 185-186 which also, handily, illustrates some of the taxation policies of barbarians:
“The Babylonian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian worlds pass from one conqueror's hands to another's, and it is their own blood that pays for the contest. That is their peace. When in 1401 the Mongols conquered Mesopotamia, they built a victory memorial out of the skulls of a hundred thousand inhabitants of Baghdad, which had not defended itself. From the intellectual point of view, no doubt, the extinction of the nations puts a fellaheen-world above history, civilized at last and for ever. But in the realm of facts it reverts to a state of nature, in which it alternates between long submissiveness and brief angers that for all the bloodshed world-peace never diminishes that alter nothing. Of old they shed their blood for themselves; now they must shed it for others, often enough for the mere entertainment of others that is the difference. A resolute leader who collects ten thousand adventurers about him can do as he pleases. Were the whole world a single Imperium, it would thereby become merely the maximum conceivable field for the exploits of such conquering heroes. “Lever doodt al s Sklav (better dead than slave)” is an old Frisian peasantsaying. The reverse has been the choice of every Late Civilization, and every Late Civilization has had to experience how much that choice costs it.”
The idea of different “ages” is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. I'm a Thelemite and it is very common within the Thelemic community to find individuals saying that we are living in a New Aeon; Crowley himself claimed that each aeon lasted about 2,000 years and we went from Aeon of Isis (goddess worship) to Osiris (dying god) to Horus/Child (Thelema).
As a metaphor I think this may have some value but it's slightly astounding to me that a lot of big-name folks seem to interpret this literally. I'm working on an essay that explores the concept of a New Aeon using the “Class A” Thelemic texts as opposed to the ideas Crowley himself and many of his followers seemed to push. To my knowledge, there aren't too many voices openly calling the idea of Aeonic Procession a “flake filter” but I like that way of interpreting it!
I really like the idea of using the Unicorn/Phoenix/Dragon as emblems of different ways of being. It seems like a model with a lot of potential.
It goes without saying that the content of the emotionally charged representations are culture- and person-specific. I've been thinking lately that Spengler would have called the Qabalistic Cross an obviously Faustian ritual, with the body expanding into limitless space and light streaming in from an infinitely far point. That the shape of the cross matches the Christian one is almost a superficial detail compared to the spatial aspects.
I wonder how important it is that the representations used in magic match those of one's native culture. I don't know much about Druid magic as it is practiced today, but (and feel free to correct me) I gather that movement in circles/cycles is the “prime symbol”. As a nature religion born and practiced in the modern industrial world, I wonder if infinite space still has appeal, or at least influence, in the modern Druid's mind. Having skimmed it in a bookstore but not having read it, I'm curious: Did any of this come to mind while writing Celtic Golden Dawn?
Like Tom Bannister, several books came to mind.
“The stunning diversity of the human cultures…” reminded me of a scene in Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, in which several Aboriginal Australians ride in the back of the truck seemingly muttering incoherently. It's revealed, of course, that they are “singing” the topography of the truck's path, which is their way to map the landscape with which they're intimate. (And they “muttered” because the truck is traveling at speeds much faster than their ancestors' feet did when they first sang the landscape.) This blew my mind, teaching me everything I needed to know about the relativity of human perception. I've tried several times to put myself into the mindset that would use songlines but have yet to come close.
The second book I thought of was The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet by Margaret Wertheim. In it she draws connections between the Internet and medieval art and religion, the main one being the reversal of perception. Medieval Europeans looked upward to the heavens for concrete representations of the divine. Modern Westerners look to the abstract (code) to construct a kind of reality.
Tom, excellent. We'll get into the difference between concrete images and abstract ideas as sources of motivation as we proceed.
SR, wrong on two counts. First, Barfield spends most of the first third of Saving the Appearances taking apart the notion that experience is separate from thinking, and the categorization of white cockatoos with the sun is an example of what he calls “alpha-thinking” and what I call abstraction, which is even further into thinking territory. Second, while he does indeed indicate that “original participation” is in some sense closer to reality than our current unparticipated thought, he goes on at great length about how it's strange (to us), primitive, and pagan, and that we must never, never think of going “back” to it.
Andrew, pay attention to them. They may turn into doors.
Phil, I wasn't that impressed by Sorokin, but it's been a while since I read him and I probably ought to try him again.
Ember, exactly! Thank you for taking the time to enjoy the feast.
Cherokee, I've had no personal experience of cockatoos, but it makes sense to me that people who actually live around them would note the differences. As for Barfield and the Singularity, bingo — it's all the same sort of immanentizing of the eschaton.
John, if you've ever tried to run an initiatory lodge or order, you'll know just how crucial a flake filter is. Occultism attracts a vast number of people who are interested in it solely as a stage on which to act out various melodramas.
Tracy, if someone else mistakes them for phoenixes, I'll know I'm on to something. A happy Alban Elued to you and yours as well.
Ember, excellent! That's the name of the game here, and in my other blog as well: it's not the ostensible subjects but the narratives that provide them with their substructure of meaning that are at issue.
Eric, got it in one. It's the hallmark of Dragon Time that experiential knowing goes out of fashion, and the only kind of knowledge that's respected is abstract intellection. Inevitably that turns out to be the chink in the dragon's armor through which the unicorn's horn enters in due time.
Merle, of course — I have to spend a lot of time on the other blog saying the same thing in many different ways, in the attempt to get people to see the narratives that structure their thought. Those who come here are far enough outside the conventional wisdom to be able to handle occult philosophy, which gives me a good deal more freedom in talking about what matters. As for thinking about the past in these terms, exactly!
Am thinking these three concepts could fit nicely on my inner three symbolic representations “IAO” or , ( MEm, Shin , Aleph) , outside which lie the seven , then the twelve and the thirty six , seventy two etc until i am blue green algae at both the centre and the periphery ….
Emitting oxygen and good vibes …
Alternatively , this wheel operates in milleniums , as well as mili seconds , in the life of an entity, society , culture , continent , what – have – you …??
Trippy stuff , but great fun
These blokes ( Lewi , Barfield , Tolkien, williams ) really did have an Inkling !
I guess they were the Apollo Astronauts of their day
Pilgrims Regress – Southern Dragon- CS Lewis
” i have come back with victory got
But stand away- touch me not
Even with your clothes . I burn red hot
The worm was bitter. When she saw
My shield glitter beside the shaw
She spat flame on her golden jaw
When on my sword her vomit split
The blade took fire. On the hilt
Beryl cracked, and bubbled guilt
When sword and sword arm were all flame
With the very heat that came
Out of the brute , i flogged her tame
In her own spew the worm died
I rolled her round and tore her wide
And plucked the heart from her boiling side
When my teeth were in the heart
I felt a pulse within me start
As though my breast would break apart
It shook the hills and made them reel
And spun the woods round like a wheel
The grass singed where i set my heel
Behemoth is my serving man !
Before the conquered hosts of Pan
Riding tamed Leviathan
Loud i sing for well i can
Resurgam and IO PAEAN
IO , IO , IO , PAEAN !!
Now i know the stake i played for ,
Now i know what a worms made
Magicalthyme, the experience of meaning and pattern in what our current Dragon Time science insists must be random and meaningless is at the heart of the mage's work in this age — and squash magic is a very, very sensible thing to cultivate just now!
Ray, it's pretty barbarous. I'd encourage you to read any decent book on the history of the Dark Ages, and note how much of history at that time consisted of somebody being killed by somebody else. That said, taxes go down and zoning regulations go away, so there are some incentives. 😉
Nemo, oh, granted. Crowley's aeonic theory was — like most of his teachings — a borrowing from the pop culture of his time, and doesn't stand up well in the light of history. That said, if I may briefly risk being considered a center of pestilence, there's a straightforward and very interesting interpretation of Liber AL's aeonic passages that I haven't heard discussed much: a geopolitical interpretation. Who was the warrior lord of the 1940s? Before whom did the 1980s tremble, and abase themselves? The United States of America, far and away the most Thelemic nation in the world, with its bird of prey emblem. But the double-wanded one is on his way; those wands are called Yin and Yang, in case you were wondering. 😉
John, good. Yes, I put a lot of thought into how much of the Faustian symbolism needed to be retained when I worked out the system in The Celtic Golden Dawn, precisely because it's a fusion between modern Druidry and the Golden Dawn tradition. In my more traditionally Druid books, there's no Faustian symbolism at all.
Librarian, thanks for the book recommendations!
I recall not long ago seeing a report on a new fossil ape that appeared to be close to the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. What people were surprised at was that is actually did not look that much like a chimpanzee, and was far more in the middle between us and them. Even in the 21st century, it had not occurred to primatologists that the chimpanzee might be just as highly derived from this common ancestor as we are. Chimps apparently have specialized and differentiated just as much as we have, but in their own directions. But, of course it was assumed that the common ancestor would be chimp-like. We are more advances, clearly, and the chimps are primitive, obviously. So the common ancestor would indubitably be more chimp-like.
I like your choice of imagery for three ages, these symbols, in themselves, are an excellent example of Unicorn thinking!
I am currently reading C.S. Lewis's last book; The Discarded Image, which provides a wonderfully insightful introduction to Medieval thinking.
Looking forward to next month's post!
So, is it pushing the imagery too far to ponder the ways that different dragons have deal with their fondness for shiny things? Not all of them simply sit upon the hoard, Smaug-like. Some are themselves bejeweled beasts, festooned with shiny things and glittering in the light. What might this mean for the ultimate fate of the dragon? Heck if I know. But decorating yourself with your hoarded shinies seems like a rather different thing than stashing them away in your cave.
Still pondering what it is that is in our pond, leaving a perfectly circular 1.5-meter diameter bowl-shaped, nest-like burrow right at the inflow. And why do I hear loud splashing sounds that seem outsized compared to the ripples on the pond that I see when I crank my head around to look for the source? Hmmm…
Thank you as usual JMG. This comes (for me) only a day after learning about the work of Alexander Chizhevsky and the subsequent idea of an external 'zeitgeber' (timekeeper) which sprang from his early work. My first response? It seems that through each cycle – unicorn, phoenix to dragon there is perhaps then a gradual coalescence in the human group consciousness field as common thought and perception lead to greater degrees of abstraction until it reaches some kind of critical mass and implodes, or explodes, and everything un-sticks itself. The trick, I suppose, is learning how to step back from that lemming single-mindedness (or should I say get off the chariot)in an effective way, knowing that one can never be separate from it. I imagine the unicorn state then as similar to a void, with individual pure thought forms floating freely around. Question then is who (or what) is the internal, or maybe even external zeitgeber for the cycle, if there is one? I like to keep it simple, but then perhaps I have it all wrong! And the tipping point for the Wheel of the Year is only 30 mins off now …
I'm going to chew on this for a while, and I might come back with more probing comments and questions, but I'm going to go ahead and post my very first response:
I am concerned that, should I argue for some position that you do not hold – and do it using things like “science” and “reason” – you will be able to use this particular set of essays to say that my arguments are just yea so many abstractions, indicative of my inability to transcend the cultural era that birthed me. I hope you could see how unsatisfying an answer that would be!
Based on the analogy presented in this essay, it could be argued that China, India and to a lesser extent Dar al Islam are ancient dragons that either haven’t met their unicorn or have successfully fought him off. On the other hand, one curious thing I have noticed is that the civilizations of the East seem to be much more stable and tend to cycle within a given civilization, undergoing periods of flourishing, stasis, decadence, crisis and renewal within the same Culture (used in the Spenglerian sense). Meanwhile in western Eurasia and in the pre-Columbian civilizations of the New World, there seems to be a distinct civilizational cycle where individual civilizations are born, go through their life cycle and are eventually replaced by rising civilizations when they decline and fall. I wonder why there seems to be such a drastic difference between the durability and longevity of civilizations of the East and those of the West and the different dynamics that seem to govern their development.
JMG and SR, I appreciated the way you agreed to disagree following last month's post. However, Ember is not correct to imply that disagreeing with JMG means simply that one has a different framework than the Archdruid. I've read halfway through Saving the Appearances now, taking it slow, and JMG has indeed misunderstood Barfield, as he has graciously acknowledged might be the case.
The difference between the white and black cockatoos brought up by Barfield (Chapter IV) is NOT an example of different alpha-thinking. His whole point with this example is that it demonstrates a different kind of figuration from ours: “a state of mind at which it would be difficult to arrive by inference” ie. by alpha-thinking. Totemic thinking is figuration, not abstraction; SR is correct.
Though I haven't yet read through to the chapters on final participation, Barfield indicates quite clearly at the end of Chapter V that it is a “too difficult corollary that, out of all the wide variety of collective representations which are found even to-day over the face of the earth, and the still wider variety which history unrolls before us, God has chosen for His delight the particular set shared by Western man in the last few centuries.”
This indicates to me that Barfield is very aware of the 'still wider variety' of frameworks which lie in the future and scornful of the notion that the present Western framework is in some sense privileged.
JMG, why make a straw man of someone who offers so many more interesting avenues of exploration for your (very complementary) ideas?
Kutamun, yes, you can fit the three ages particularly well to the standard Golden Dawn IAO symbolism.
Bill, I was referring to australopithecines, which have always struck me as not unlike chimps more or less specialized for bipedal travel — savanna chimps, if you wish. Interesting to hear that current theory has chimps evolving out of something closer to the hominid lineage — last time I was paying close attention, protochimps such as Proconsul were considered ancestral to both.
Clover, glad to hear it. It's a book well worth reading.
Bill, like most concrete images, these can be worked and reworked in many different ways. If contemplating the varying behavior of dragons with hoards works for you, it works — but I plan on using the hoarding behavior as a specific metaphor later on, as we proceed.
Meg, I'm unfamiliar with Chizhevsky — can you recommend an accessible introduction?
Mark, it all depends on how you use those words “science” and “reason.” If you use them as vaporous abstractions, then yes, I'll call you on that. If, instead, you grapple with what those words actually mean, and with the vexed relationship between theoretical models of existence and the hurly-burly of actual human experience, then we can talk more seriously.
Kaitain, nah, all of those societies have passed through the cycle more than once. I'm most familiar with China, and would note one cycle extending from the Shang and early Chou (unicorn) to the later Chou, warring states, and Chin (phoenix) and then to the Han (dragon); then another round from the Three Kingdoms through to the end of the T'ang; and then a third from there to the Ch'ing. When the collapse of industrial civilization puts an end to the current Chinese state, they'll be back in unicorn (or, more precisely, qilin) time again.
Dylan, there's a difference between disagreeing with a writer and treating him as a straw man. As I see it, Barfield is insisting that because his version of alpha-thinking can't assign white cockatoos and the sun to the same category, then no variety of alpha-thinking can, and there he's dead wrong. Of course figuration underlies both sets of categories, but that's exactly the point I made in the post. The irony is that, while Barfield does indeed cast doubt on God's alleged preference for the industrial West's current set of figurations, he then goes on to insist that only through those figurations — that is, only through unparticipated consciousness — can humanity achieve final participation. Obviously I disagree with him, and my take on his philosophy will necessarily be shaped by that disagreement.
Then i guess your seven laws and three paradigms from “Mystery Teachings of The Living Earth ” also fit beautifully in this scheme …as you say Golden Dawn Standard symbolism , which must still be alive and active for me to be guided along like this nearly eighty or so years after it disbanded .. I am with you , though , its powerful , but it lacked that connection to the living earth which you are describing beautifully ..so thanks mate , and Happy Easter to me …or Ostara , East , Yeast , Rising , Great Magician , Golden Dawn …i will keep an eye on the light side while your barque traverseth the dark …have fun
Cause and Effect
“For a non participating consciousness it is either,or. A narrative is either a historical record or a symbolic representation . It cannot be both ; and the pre figurings of the new testament in the old , and the whole prophetic element in the old testament is now apt to be regarded as moonshine . In a parallel sphere , however, the life history of the individual man ……in the nineteenth century it required the powerful imagination of a John Keats to perceive that “every mans life is a perpetual allegory ” . In our own day the development of psychology alone has made this possible for much more ordinary men …….a man is no longer regarded as a lunatic who divines that the things which happen to a person , and the order in which they happen , may be as much a part of him as his physical organism . And it seems to lie in the natural order of things , that , with the further increase of final participation , this perception should be extended to the biographies of nations and races , and of humanity as a whole “
Owen Barfield ” Saving The Appearances “
As I see it, Barfield is insisting that because his version of alpha-thinking can't assign white cockatoos and the sun to the same category, then no variety of alpha-thinking can, and there he's dead wrong.
If he thought that he would be wrong, but he doesn't. The reason our alpha-thinking doesn't assign white cockatoos and the sun to the same category is that we have a different figuration, as Dylan said.
The irony is that, while Barfield does indeed cast doubt on God's alleged preference for the industrial West's current set of figurations, he then goes on to insist that only through those figurations — that is, only through unparticipated consciousness — can humanity achieve final participation.
It is not our particular figurations that matter, nor is it what our particular alpha-thinking comes up with, but alpha-thinking itself that matters. Especially when it is applied to itself, i.e., beta-thinking. Unfortunately, to explain why this is a Good Thing requires some heavy-duty metaphysics, but the short version is that alpha-thinking fosters detachment. This is why Plotinus, for one, recommended (as a discipline for mystical truth-seekers) the study of philosophy and mathematics.
Your Unicorn, Phoenix and Dragon are beautiful symbols to paint an enlightening triptych of the cycle of populations committed to follow the civilization route.
But how could we understand those that do not follow that path, say the San in South Africa, Inuits close to North Pole or Guaranis in the Amazon?
I wouldn't think their stuck in the Unicorn Age. Nevertheless, it looks like they don't have the memory of an older age of the Phoenix or Dragon. Thinking of it, it looks like the birth of the first Phoenix can be problematic, like she needs a previous Phoenix who already left the nest for her to be reborn.
This leaves me with a set of questions I'll have to puzzle with for a while:
– Is it good to leave a hidden nest so a future Phoenix can emerge?
– How such a Phoenix nest emerged the first time?
– How, if it is good, such a nest can be hidden and preserved for future generations?
Thanks JMG for your lights and food for thought.
congrats for this blog, and congrats for the commenters as well.
Keep it up !
I'm curious where would astrology fit in with your model of temporal development? It is an attempt at intellectualizing abstract and concrete experiences, but is more intuitive than rational, no? Maybe the phoenix period?
I have quite a few questions, because I do feel that we get glimpses of the territory but not of the map :
1.- Is there a special discipline or school of occultism that deals with finding images to label stuff, or is it just what magic in general does ? I got the latter from what I read…
2.- Does a culture have to go through the complete cycle, or are there possible transitions back and forth between phoenix and dragon stages ?
3.- You talk a lot about analyzing narratives, but on your other blog (thearchdruidreport). So I suppose that narratives, just like images, are tools of the trade for occultists ?
@ray Wharton :
“At this stage I still feel very trapped in the dragons liar, raised in and tied up by abstractions that bind my thoughts to one another. Really it wouldn't be so bad, playing cats cradle with these threads of abstraction while the dragon slumbered in the other corner of the lair. But the smell of Dragon blood is becoming more and more vile. I think the Unicorn's horn landed, unheard, sometime ago and the Dragon doesn't seem to mind the slow seeping of blood, growing more and more groggy.”
I like the way you put it. But isn't the dragon bleeding all the time ? By definition, it has to be constantly losing some few drops of blood, since humans always need to dream and imagine fantasies…
Dragon time as you describe it here reminds me of the dragon in Zarathustra’s Three Metamorphoses. An ancient beast that claims to possess all values from all previous times. A beast of abstraction if ever there was one, it distills a comprehensive abstraction from all previous human experience in an eternal “thou shalt” against every new creative “I will”. In a way, I think Zarathustra returns to this theme when he throws off the smug certainty of the Spirit of Gravity’s equally comprehensive historical abstraction “thus it was.”
Nietzsche moves back and forth between historical and personal scales. Do you see a useful application of Unicorn, Phoenix, and Dragon in one’s personal development?
My curiosity is getting the better of me…
When you're reflecting upon unicorns in relation to the Middle Ages, is La Dame à la licorne among the significant associations that you have in mind? Those six tapestries were the second set of remembered images that arose in my own consciousness, immediately after my socks. 😉
The five which depict the conventional senses—taste, hearing, sight, smell, touch—are relatively direct representations of concrete experiences. The sixth, À Mon Seul Désir, is more enigmatic. That image includes an open chest for storage of the lady's necklace, and it's ambiguous whether she's taking out her treasure or putting it away. The jewel box is positioned between the lady and the unicorn, along roughly the same line of sight—is her gaze directed at the material wealth or at the magical beast? We're left to work it out for ourselves.
Art historians believe these tapestries were created at the very end of the medieval era, or the beginning of the Renaissance, depending on how the periods are divided. I'm regarding Desire again with fresh eyes and thinking: it's almost like there's an uneasy anticipation of Dragon Time already present in it. This makes me wonder what happened to the seventh tapestry, the one that would show a phoenix.
Regarding your “geopolitical interpretation of Liber AL's aeonic passages,”, you're certainly consistent! I recall your similarly geopolitical interpretation of the book of Revelation. Is this a theme?
The feast continues – other perceptions of this concept have captured my imaginings…
First, thinking about the time of the Dragon, not only do humans act in this age as dragons – with many focused on hoarding and protecting – humans are themselves hoarded. In unicorn times, people are relatively free (wild horses if you will;) in phoenix times people freely choose to be consumed in the building of societies and nations; in dragon times the nations and societies hold the people captive and hoard their lives and labor. (This, to me, is one of the scariest aspects of our modern culture – that our lives are hoarded – that by default we aren't allowed to stake our lives on something nor to let our lives go (we have to file legal paperwork to be allowed to die from trauma rather than be sustained in a hospital.)
Why is this?
My second thought concerns mimesis and leaders.
In unicorn times, we have stories and local heroes as the objects of mimesis. We mimic legends.
In phoenix times, the objects for mimesis are those that burn the brightest, artists and martyrs – people willing to sacrifice their concrete existence in pursuit of an ideal.
In dragon times, the objects for mimesis are idealized perceptions of those with hoards of power (whether skills, fame, or fortune;) the people themselves are not the objects for mimesis, rather it is the abstract ideal they represent. We mimic the myth rather than the person (leading to the humorous profusion of get rich quick schemes, talent agents, and colleges of questionable repute.)
I purposely use legend for unicorn times and myth for dragon times, not intending their common synonymous meanings. For legend, I invoke the meaning from medieval Latin legenda, or “things to be read.” It refers to concrete actions that become legend. For myth, I intend the meaning of mythos, beliefs or assumptions about something.
This mimesis plays into the prevalent leadership of each age. In unicorn times, leaders ride the power of legend, their actions building into respect and command. In phoenix times leaders ride the power of sacrifice – sometimes their own, but more often their followers' willingness to sacrifice when presented with a “worthy” (well-presented) ideal. In dragon times leaders ride the power of myth, with its ability to justify, or literally rewrite, the means when the ends lead to success/power.
Leaders in dragon times are myths, and they are sought, chosen, and followed for their abstract hoard of (or potential for) power rather than for their person. By dragon times, the civilization has become too unwieldy (and undesirable) for individuals to govern. The people seek for it to be governed by ideals and keep foisting into its leadership roles people who will pledge allegiance to the ideal (often in pursuit of the power it gives.) There is an expectedly high turnover in this leadership, with tragic consequences for the society as it increasingly is governed by the abstract and mechanistic rules and practices that are the sole survivors of each human (and therefore unsatisfactorily ideal) reign.
Ok, well… that comment was relevant and courteous, but by no means as concise as I expected based on the brief flash of thought that preceded it. Again, thanks for the feast! … What's for dessert?
That's a nice combination of animals and they must also have other significances. Your book on Druid magic gave another attribution to dragons,for instance.
Perhaps you should also consider the lion. It's early presence and later absence seems to contribute to the vigour and pugnacity of early cultures, in contrast to the slave mentality of late societies.
Seeing that the Lion and the Unicorn are the supporters of the Arms of England and Wales, I thought that they symbolised the exoteric and esoteric aspects of Sovereignty.
Something of the current sad state of these lands may be due to the banishment of the Unicorn by rationalists and the caging and neutering of the Lion by the Health and Safety tyrants!
The mnemonic you've proposed with the three mythical creatures is certainly vivid and helpful. Still I wonder if you will expound upon the background and sources that led you to select the Dragon as a symbol for the age of abstraction and reason. I'm an Engineer, not well-versed in history and symbology, so I'd love to hear some of the background to that choice.
Having received most (but not all) of my impressions of Dragons from 20th-century pop culture, I am a bit puzzled by your statement that “The dragon is not a magical beast”. While I realize that the fiery breath has not always and everywhere been a feature of dragons, it is strongly associated today. A creature capable of projecting great gouts of long-distance flame repeatedly from its gullet is drawing upon an energy source which doesn't sit well with the laws of rational physics or biology (an excessively extravagant defense mechanism like that would seem to waste energy better spent in reproduction etc). To say nothing of its aerodynamics! Sure, the magic we're ultimately talking about is magic of the mind and not the Harry Potter lightning bolt fireball kind, but by that standard, how magical are the Unicorn and Phoenix?
It has often been proposed in 20th century pop analysis that the worldwide appearance of dragons in mythology is a biological pre-memory of the time when all mammals were rodents scurrying at the feet of huge lizards. That prememory is not exactly a source of rational and abstract symbolism.
My very limited knowledge of dragons in Oriental tradition has them characterized, generally, as bringers of wisdom and harmony — again not the strong points of an Age of abstraction and reason. For example, my understanding of why many martial arts dojos use the symbols of a tiger and a dragon on their logo is because the tiger represents ultimate physical prowess — an unbeatable opponent on the battlefield. But the dragon, from what I hear, represents the mastery of both the body and the spirit. A dragon can beat a tiger because the dragon has the ancient wisdom to know when and how to pick his battles; he doesn't let himself get carried away with bloodlust and emotion, so he beats the tiger often by obviating any advantage or need to the fighting. Thus has it been explained to me by modern white American martial artists, at least.
By way of counterpoint, we have the Mesoamerican tradition of Quetzalcoatl, a dragon-form creature who brought the natives abstract knowledge, of calendars and laws and so forth. Quetzalcoatl seems to fit your profile — he brought great knowledge once in the past, but then made promises of a paradisiacal return… promises which he couldn't keep.
But me personally, if I were to pick a mythological creature to represent an Age of reason and abstraction, I would pick the Vampire. (I realize you generally wish to avoid value judgments that would depict one age as Evil and another as Good, so that choice might not be appropriate. Nevertheless…) the Vampire, from the tales I've received, evokes emotions in others (can even seduce them) and simulates emotion himself, but feels only coldness inside. He's driven by a coldly rational plan to increase his consumption but never feels satisfaction. The dragon, in Western myths, seems more or less happy to be left alone with his hoard (so long as he can snatch the occasional sheep) — but the vampire seems driven to expand his power and take ever more people into his thrall. Most interesting of all, he cannot see himself in a mirror because he is incapable of introspection and cannot abide knowing what he has become.
One final quibble or request for clarification: when you say that magic “falls into disrepute” in the Dragon age, the age of the fall of a civilization. It has been proposed by commenters on your other blog, that today's inheritors of the magical tradition are the ad-men, the imagery marketers, the propagandists, the financial con men, the psy-ops people, and yes the politicians seeking to manipulate voters. By that standard, not only is magic today _not_ the outcast stepchild of the sciences — you could say we are utterly ruled by magic, we live in a mage-ocracy. Is there perhaps merit to the idea that magic has “fallen into disrepute” only among the common people, who now fancy themselves each one an educated sage and scientist… and are thereby manipulated by the elites through non-scientific means? Or could we perhaps view it that “thaumaturgy” (as you have defined it elsewhere) is ascendant and it is only “theurgy” that has fallen into disrepute? This is relevant to your column here because the question then becomes, whether imagery mnemonics like the ones you propose, are really an _alternate_ way of seeing the world, or just a different family of images within a world overburdened by endless psychologically and magically loaded images.
Did the great philosopher Mike Tyson discover the tension between abstraction and experiance long ago with this haku? “Everyone has a plan,'till they get punched in the mouth.”
JMG: your interpretation of Liber AL put a big smile on my face.
Being a center of pestilence can be pretty underrated!
By the way; I'd like to ask if you consider Unicorn time to correspond with the way that certain Taoist texts describe ancient people who lived in harmony with the Way? It seems to me they both can function as a sort of ideal described through what is (mostly) unknown.
Kutamun, good. Yes, it's all part of a common symbolic pattern.
SR, I'm aware that that's what Barfield said; I'm disagreeing with him. When the sources Barfield used went on about “participation mystique,” they were talking through their hats; more recent and less biased research into the thought of nonwestern cultures has shown that category-systems of the sort Barfield cited involve a great deal of conscious, abstract thought, and thus count as alpha-thinking, not just as figuration. Do figurations support those alpha-categories? Of course, but then that's true in every case; abstract categories feed back into the process of figuration — but as Barfield pointed out, figuration is thinking, not just experiencing.
As for the importance of beta-thinking (what I'm calling “reflection,” using Vico's terminology), no argument there — but reflection is a two-edged sword, and it can lead to madness as well as to wisdom. To borrow Steiner's typology, it's very easy for reflection to run off the rails in either a Luciferic or an Ahrimanic direction. Avoiding that is hard enough for an individual, and so far, at least, it's proven impossible for a society — thus the cycle I'm discussing.
Guillermo, the sequence I'm discussing only happens in literate societies. Less complex societies with a wholly oral tradition have their own historical processes, which are less easily typified in stages — I suppose you could say that the unicorn, the phoenix, and the dragon all roam through the countryside at the same time.
Jean-vivien, thank you.
Indrajala, astrology as such emerges in Dragon Time, as an abstraction and systematization of older and less formal modes of astromancy. Like other enduring sciences, it then gets picked up and carried through the ensuing series of ages, picking up a bit of unicorn's mane here, a phoenix feather there, a dragon's scale somewhere else, until you finally get to the immensely rich astrological traditions we have today.
Jean-Vivien, the map will only make sense when we've covered more of the territory. I'd encourage you to keep those questions in mind, and see what the answers look like at different stages of the journey.
Redoak, excellent! That earns you today's gold star. I'll be talking more about Nietzsche as we proceed.
Tracy, no, actually, I wasn't particularly thinking about that — most of my associations with unicorns come from the bad (and not so bad) fantasy fiction I read so enthusiastically in my misspent youth. One of the things about a symbol, though, is that it can be approached from many different angles, and each one of those angles reveals something different.
RPC, haven't you noticed? Historically, prophecies are almost always about geopolitics: the fall of this kingdom, the rise of that one, and so on. It's only during the last two thousand years, and not consistently even in that period, that people have started misapplying prophecies to apocalyptic fantasies and the like.
Ember, dessert? We've barely finished the first course. 😉
Raven, no, if you want lions you'll have to go talk to Nietzsche's Zarathustra.
Thomas, I forget who it was that argued, half tongue-in-cheek, that dragons produced hydrogen in their bellies by a reaction involving stomach acids, and that gave them their fiery breath and their ability to fly. The dragon-image I'm using is of course Tolkien's, meaning it's the dragon from Beowulf lightly reworked, and with additional reworkings of my own.
As for magic falling into disrepute, you're quite right that that's an extremely simple, even simplistic, way of analyzing a very complex situation. It's going to take several posts to get to the point where the state of magic in Dragon Time will make sense, because this word “magic” has more than one meaning, and those will have to be teased out and understood — a crucial task for our time, for that matter.
DaShui, good. Very good.
Nemo, glad to hear it. As for the Taoist texts, they were adept at the use of fables — “the ancient days when people lived in harmony with the Tao” is a classic fable, one that gets a lot of use these days in Neopagan and deep ecology circles. Unicorn Time is meant to talk about something a little more specific, and a little better known.
@ Violet Cabra:
I well remember reading that passage the first time I read Spengler and it made a real impression on me. Very sobering indeed. Sadly, just as we in the West have foolishly ignored Spengler and his brilliant insights, we seem to be hell-bent on repeating the very mistakes he criticizes in that passage.
Here is a rather egregious example that stood out in my mind. Incidentally, the friend who first alerted me to this issue and sent me these links is not a right winger but a lifelong liberal Democrat who was a senior government official working for the State of Oregon (he retired a few years ago). Not surprisingly, my friend has gotten into some heated arguments with some of his fellow progressives, including a professor who teaches at the University of Oregon. I cannot think of any civilization in history that seemed to be so determined to commit mass suicide, and if anything, things seem to be even more self-destructive in Europe than here in America.
Immediately after reading the part about the dynamic between the late period Dragon and the emerging Unicorn, I was reminded very strongly reminded of the Book of Revelations:
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
Read as a historical allegory, the Dragon would be the Roman empire which indeed did persecute Christians . The Dragon of late period Rome was also a Dragon very much in line with what you wrote about in your essay; it hoarded it's knowledge sleepily, but had a chink in its s cales that eventually the Unicorn of Christianity used to kill it, and then proceeded to stomp and frolic all around its lair, even saving some of its treasures, safeguarding them in Ireland.
What makes me wonder is the complexity of the relationship between the Unicorn and the Dragon; the Unicorn doesn't only kill the Dragon and then rule the vacated land, but also seems to, historically, value and make use of the treasures and legacy that once belonged to the Dragon. Does the larval Phoenix act as an intermediary between the two, or is the Unicorn more complex and mysterious than we can guess just by looking at its faint hoof-prints?
Re Alexander Chizhevsky/Tchijevsky. Primary sources? Wish I could, but I don't speak Russian, therefore I am dependent on secondary sources–but at least they seem to be consistent.
He was first referenced for me by Lynne McTaggart in 'The Bond'. That sent me on a web search (found a whole PDF copy of Dewey's 'Cycles' for future reading in the process). Chizhevsky looked at the bigger historical picture to find the patterns of repetitive human angst and tied them in, with some success it seems, to solar cycles. That got me wondering (quite over-simplistically, admittedly) as to what force(s) might drive the Unicorn, Phoenix, Dragon cycle.
I often think the compilers of the bible placed two contradictory creation stories at the beginning of genesis to create something similar to a “flake filter”. I speculate that they thought anyone paying attention would realize genesis contains two accounts of creation and they must therefore be taken as fable or myth. Though it does not seem to have worked. While biblical scholars understand this, fundamentalists and atheists alike seem to have trouble recognizing them as myth. Now that I think of it, I wonder how the mindset of different ages affected this. Given the myths probably developed in a unicorn age and have stuck around since.
In any case, I think these three creatures seem apt representations of their times. The dragon seems especially appropriate and I’m sure I will recognize some of the more popular arguments that try to explain away the gaps between abstraction and reality.
It's taken me a couple of days to begin gathering my thoughts. When I first read your essay, the labels of Unicorn Time, Phoenix Time, and Dragon Time struck me intuitively as being so perfect that I laughed out loud. But it's taken some time and reflection to even begin moving it from the intuitive areas to someplace verbal in my brain.
It occurs to me that I have some experience with the emotionally-charged images of Unicorn Time because I was raised Catholic, and the Catholic church became what it is during the dark and middle ages. Cathedrals are designed to make you look up (toward where God lives). The Stations of the Cross are usually life-size or bigger than life size and are there to provoke an emotional response to the passion of Christ. The saints are believed to be real people who really did the things in their stories and who performed real miracles before they died, after death, or both. The mundane (“give to the church organ fund”) and the miraculous (“this is the body of Christ”) exist side-by-side all the time.
I remember as a little girl being terrified of a statue of Saint Lucy, who held out her eyeballs in a little dish and looked at you piously with her blank statue eyes. The eyeballs peered over the edge of the dish menacingly, I thought. My mother, being a thoroughly modern Millie, explained that it was just a story, that the statues were designed to to help people who can't read to remember the story and I should therefore not run past it at top speed in the church vestibule.
Forty-odd years later I have a physical memory of how that statue gave me the creeps. Those eyeballs were watching me, and since Lucy was a saint (and therefore had the ear of God), the eyes of God were on me and I should probably not hit my sister and make her cry while sitting in the back seat of the car. I'm pretty sure that's what the image intended, not my mother's more modern take on it. The statue was supposed to bypass the rational part of me that knew even at that tender age that disembodied eyeballs can't see and go straight to another place entirely.
That's as far as I've gotten, and I have no idea if I am even close to being on the right track.
“dragons produced hydrogen in their bellies by a reaction involving stomach acids” etc. – Carl Sagan, in The Dragons of Eden.
Regarding Revelation, I guess I've heard too many interpretations, from the Rapture to Scott Hahn's interpretation of it as the prototype for the Catholic Mass (first the Book of Truth is opened and read, followed by the Supper of the Lamb), to immediately jump to the geopolitical one! Still, it's at least as convincing as any other I've heard, and there's nothing to say multiple interpretations couldn't be right!
Kaitain, That's incredible! I did a superficial investigation of the issues of Muslims and Sweden after watching the videos best I could (my computer is very, very slow) and was blown away. It reminded me of how Spengler says something to the effect that “world improvers always speak for fellaheen ideals” it's eerie to see how much that is shaping up in some parts of Europe.
RPC, people love to interpret Revelations! My understanding, however, was the historical allegory interpretation was pretty mainstream, from wikipedia's article on The beast of Revelation:
“Preterism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets prophecies of the Bible, especially the Books of Daniel and Revelation, as events which have already happened in the first century AD.
Preterist academic scholars generally identify the first beast from the sea with the Roman Empire, particularly with Emperor Nero.
The beast from the earth is generally identified with the Roman Imperial cult or the Jewish religious system of the first century that conspired with the Roman state to suppress and persecute the early church.”
The unicorn, phoenix, and dragon stages of a civilization brought to mind the theory of the triune brain i.e. the reptilian brain, limbic system, and neocortex associated respectively with basic life functions, emotions, and rational (abstract) thought respectively. Though this theory has few supporters these days as it is considered overly simplistic; it is undeniable that the human brain is hierarchical in its functions. Generally if one places a person under stress, the first thing to go is rational thought. Reflexive and emotion driven behavior tends to predominates at that point. The last thing to go are the basic functions to sustain life (how could it be otherwise?).
Perhaps Maslow's “hierarchy of needs” is a better analogy. Nonetheless, it follows that those parts of our awareness that are most primitive are those which most dominate when basic survival is the issue. Those are the parts that think by (often emotion laden) associations as we do when we dream. I assume magic works at the same non-rational level. Why such thinking should be devalued when societal conditions allow more abstract, less visceral, thought to develop is an interesting question to me. None of us stop dreaming or feeling emotions. Does the magic stop working?
I suspect that just as the neocortex overlays the more basic functions of the brain, so ultra rational abstract thought just overlays more primitive modes of thought in a society as in individuals. Rarefied thought is the purview of elites. The rest of us never completely buy into such thinking as it does not meet basic emotional needs (or even make sense sometimes – “coherent but incomplete”). Religion certainly did not disappear (as some had predicted or hoped) as science dominated our society.
Such rational elites can only exist in a highly hierarchical and complex society. But still, why not a caste of astrologers or geomancers? The ancient Egyptians were known for their magic but did they have a caste of professional magicians? If so perhaps they may be the exception that proves the rule. Again, why is it normally the rationalists not the magicians that dominate in the dragon stage?
Perhaps the issue is power. If a ruler devalues the numinous, he becomes the last god left standing … or perhaps reclining … on his horde of gold.
Re Agent Provocateur's response, I can tell you that as I was trained in science my dreams grew less vivid. Eventually I was nearly unable to imaginatively visualize anything, as I found out when I started magical training in AODA's system. It seemed to be almost a year before I started to see, imaginatively, the figures and scenes in the various ritual steps rather than “talk” them out in my head. There are hints that my dreams are becoming more vivid again too, but it's too soon to be sure of that.
I'll have to go back and read this post and the comments again this winter. Maybe I'm getting caught by the flake filter, though the fact that I find these posts fascinating, even if most of what you say is over my head, suggests I'm not really a flake, just an overeducated scientist trying to find my way through a very different kind of landscape.
Your comment to Indrajala about astrology is reasonable enough, but wrong. Western astrology appears to have been created almost out of whole cloth in the 2nd or 3rd century CE by a person we might as well call Hermes. Where he got it is a complete mystery: the Mesopotamian and Egyptian roots simply don’t account for the massive number of techniques in Hellenistic astrology, only about half of which have persisted to modern times. The source for this statement is Robert Schmidt at Project Hindsight, who did a new translation of most of the surviving Greek texts, many of which had never been translated into English before. Reconstructing what he calls the System of Hermes was a monumental task.
@ Greg Belvedere
Genesis contains material from (at least) three different traditions, shoehorned together; two creation stories is not the only place where they did this. The Days of Creation is usually regarded as a hymn belonging to the Priestly source, while the Garden of Eden belongs to the Eloistic source. Whoever read it to an audience was probably expected to select the correct passages.
@John Roth: the 2nd and 3rd century CE were definitely dragon time. That was the time of Marcus Aurelius, Sextus Empiricus and the Skeptics, and the the time of the formation of neoplatonism.
“Thus the image of the world in Unicorn Time tends to be complete but inconsistent, while the image of the world in Dragon Time is consistent but incomplete:”
I have been reading through Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach recently and this sentence reminded me instantly of the first of Godel's Incompleteness Theorems:
Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete
I wonder if human consciousness could be vulnerable to some sort of conservation law between consistency and completeness, where any model we use to perceive the world lies somewhere on a spectrum which has at one end a complete, inconsistent property, and an entirely incomplete and consistent property at the other end.
Whoops! I see I made an editing mistake: I meant 2nd to 3rd century BCE – most likely after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and founded Alexandria. The reason I say that is because the decanates are sort of reminiscent of the Egyptian habit of marking time at night using 36 stars that rose or culminated approximately 40 minutes apart.
@John Roth: Ah, ok, I didn't fact check you so I was just going off the dates. 300-200 BCE places it in the Hellenistic era, which was the “dragon” that consumed the “Phoenix” of the classical era.
Violet, that's a very good example of a discursive meditation on the symbols I've suggested, and so it would be wholly inappropriate for me to step in and answer any of the questions you've posed yourself. 😉
Meg, okay, thanks. I'll see what I can find.
Greg, exactly. Myth is the native language of Unicorn Time, and almost always gets misunderstood in other ages.
Maria, another fine meditation on the symbols!
RPC, no, I looked it up — it was the Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson. As for the various interpretations of Revelation, oh, granted — but I think the geopolitical one has a huge advantage, in that that's what prophecies are generally about.
Agent, nah, the thing that makes magic unpopular in Dragon Time is that the further a civilization goes along the arc of its history, the more it tends to lose track of the difference between experience and abstraction, and the more convinced it generally becomes that its favored set of abstractions are reality pure and simple. Magic has the uncomfortable property of dissolving abstractions, so it's always unwelcome until the abstractions become a leaden weight crushing the life out of a society — at which point people begin to realize what the point of this magic stuff was after all.
SLClaire, no, you're not at risk from the flake filter! These posts are going straight into the heart of magical thinking by an unfamiliar route, so it's not surprising that many people are finding it difficult to keep up. That's one of the reasons I'm only doing one post a month.
John, er, if you're going to make flat statements about someone being wrong, it would help if you showed some sign of understanding the claim you're criticizing. Here's what I said: astrology as such emerges in Dragon Time, as an abstraction and systematization of older and less formal modes of astromancy.
Now, what have you proposed? (a) That astrology emerged in the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. That's in the Hellenistic period, which I noted earlier is a Dragon period. (b) That it was created by a single person. That's irrelevant to my claim. (c) That it has a lot of techniques that don't appear earlier. That's what I was talking about when I spoke of “an abstraction and systematization of older and less formal modes of astromancy.”
Of course there were lots of new techniques introduced at that time; what was a matter of intuitive “knack” in the older Mesopotamian astromancy became a formal, abstract, systematic science at the hands of the first generation of Hellenistic astrologers. The basis of planets, Zodiacal signs, and their respective symbolism was the inheritance from the older system I was indicating. So what is it that you think I'm wrong about? I'm really quite curious.
EMG, fascinating. It's been years since I last read Hofstadter. You're right that Godel's theorem has an interesting relation to what I'm taking about here.
John, thank you for your gracious response!
I in no may mean to disrespect the symbols you have introduced but I imagine that the worm of the phoenix spends part of its life cycle inside the unicorn as something of a brain parasite. In some ways similar to the fungus that infects ants in the amazon and compels them to affix to the leaf on a high tree, after-which a mushroom grows out of its head and spores are widely distributed.
Likewise the phoenix-larva compels the unicorn to collect dragon treasures that it doesn't understand because the Phoenix needs to feed on concepts. When a sufficient pile is accumulated the Unicorn sneezes out the larva and runs back into the Primordial forests. After being nurtured inside the Unicorn, the larva feeds on the slain dragon treasures and rapidly metamorphoses into a full grown phoenix, passing through its life-cycle which includes the stages of kraken, sea-serpent, griffin and finally phoenix.
After the conflagration of the phoenix, in the dead of night on a new moon, unicorns come to commence their mating ritual on the ashes. Inevitably the unicorn-does are infected with the larva, which waits patiently inside the mother, moving into the baby unicorn during its birth.
It is said that unicorns grow very slowly to maturity, often taking well over 300 years. Of course no one knows because while they are young no one even believes in them, severally limiting cryptozoological study.
On your other blog, you mentioned that at the exhaustion of a rationalistic period, a society may come to terms with assigning some aspects of experience to rationality and others to religion, and that these may coexist for a while, each respected in it's own realm (forgive me if I my memory has garbled what you wrote). How does that fit into the historical schema you've presented here?
The discussion on this blog makes me wonder about some of our basic epistemological assumptions. Are there flaws in rationality, logic and/or causation? Geez, I sound like stoned college sophomore….thanks for your reply.
Regarding Law Codes: can we have monsters walking the streets?
Our legal system, as it is now, says yes. But keep your shirt on, there's been millennia of refinement and administration by cultured, fearsomely intelligent, highly (and expensively) educated people, working in very old and august institutions. So who are we to question? Are you qualified?
No, you're not qualified, you have NO idea, you can't grasp the complexities, the subtleties, the centuries of precedent, all the symmetries that must be observed and carefully weighed. Me neither for that matter.
What am I talking about? A while back assassins shot up a restaurant in a botched hit, crippling a customer.
The hit-team was nabbed, tried and convicted. Mob bosses coughed up $2 million in restitution, in effect buying their boys shorter sentences. After laughably short stints in prison they got out. How can this happen? Well, the legal system said it can.
The fine fellows that cooked this up are one example of people marinated in abstract mental representations that fail to account for the REAL world, in this case, a real world of human behavior, and more particularly, habitually violent behaviour
The knee jerk reaction of the average joe would say that six years isn't justice. There's no proportionality, he might say. SIX YEARS for shooting and disabling someone? Even if the victim wasn't the intended victim, the intent was to kill.
The average joe might ask a question. I know I would: can you trust such people as those killers to be out? The answer of Joe Average (and me) would be simple: NO.
Of course, all the highly degreed 'ologists of every stripe, criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, would all mouth the same word. “Simplistic” they would say. There's much, much more to justice than just lockin' 'em up. Or hangin' 'em high. That's the way of the street. There's no place for the knee-jerk-ism of me and my fictional friend Joe Average.
Yes, they would say, society must exact a price. But we must all be coolly detached and deliberative. And then there are the societal aspects to this and the academic studies and the data and the evidence. The 'ologists and jurists will draw themselves up to a great height and glower. What do YOU know, they demand. (Um, well, nothing)
But, in the end, even if we think that a six year sentence was stupid, it won't matter. Because JMG, I too would make a guess that not too long from now the overly elaborate, unaffordable, unfathomable justice system as it exists, whose conception of the world and of people seemingly has little connection to reality and that therefore regularly spawns absurdities, will be replaced.
A system this expensive, where people have to represent themselves even in family court because of the mind boggling cost, will go bye-bye. No matter the shock of the glitterati and the jowl shaking dismay of eminent and distinguished citizens.
Data and evidence? Those expensive sociological and psychological studies will end up as toilet paper in latrines. Besides, there's common sense. And common sense suggests that if you're locked up you are deterred. Even more deterred if you're hanging from a rope.
So will trees be festooned with bad guys? Maybe. Probably even. Plus guys that aren't all THAT bad, at least from today's perspective, maybe just guys that can't keep a lid on it, that don't know limits, that keep re-committing relatively minor offences but offences that test the tolerance of the neighbours.
Well, this is certainly developing into a most interesting series! I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that I still disagree with you about Barfield. I will make only two brief comments — and then shut up about Owen Barfield!
You talk about concrete and abstract consciousness, and say concrete is “very close to sensory experience”, exemplified by “child”, “tree”, “sun” — and “quickly”. Abstract concepts are thus those that are much further away from sensory experience. Barfield would have shook his head at this. In Poetic Diction, he says “It is just those meanings which attempt to be most exclusively material … which are also the most generalized and abstract — i.e. remote from reality.” His example is “cut”, which is just as close to sensory experience as “quickly”. He argues that “cut” is in fact a highly abstract word, and that a fully concrete word would be one meaning “I cut this flesh with joy in order to sacrifice.” Crucially, it’s not just the particularity of such a word that makes it concrete, but the fact that it refers to both outer and inner activity at the same time. And then, in Appendix 4, he offers a definition of “concrete” as “that which is neither objective nor subjective.” That’s what Barfield is talking about, and that’s not at all the same thing as what you mean by “concrete” and “abstract.” Which doesn’t mean that either of you are “wrong”.
My second point is your claim that abstract thinking “allows less and less to be said accurately about those phenomena”. I said, in a comment to last month’s post, that to understand what Barfield thought he was saying requires grasping the polar relation between meaning and accuracy. Your continuum between concrete and abstract runs within the polarity, from high to low “tension” between the poles, but doesn’t involve the play between the poles.
Now, as promised, I’ll shut up about Barfield. I’m not trying to convince you, but I do think you are missing one dimension of his work. His definition of “concrete”, quoted above, may be a good starting point for further reflection or meditation. Or maybe I’m just missing the whole point of what you’re saying!
I have a question, too: in your reply to SR, you say that “more recent and less biased research into the thought of nonwestern cultures has shown that category-systems of the sort Barfield cited involve a great deal of conscious, abstract thought.” Do you have any good starting reference I can use to explore this further?
As for the blog post itself: fascinating! History magic is a wholly new field for me. The Unicorn, Phoenix and Dragon sound to me like Spengler's culture images, but applied to phases within each culture.
JMG, you said that Magic dissolves abstractions. Could you give me an example of that, fictional or otherwise? Many thanks.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs also came to mind when you began to talk about a continuum from the concrete to the abstract. Once the need for food, air, and water no longer provide significant differences in meaning making you begin to have the resources for movement from the concrete to the abstract. And when there is excess without thoughtful management things can often become out of balance.
Something I have noticed is that abstractions that vibrated with meaning and sentiment change..they grow tired but the concrete ones seem to be more reliable for meaning making. I am thinking of all the shiny things abstracted from their original context that are no longer at work but instead sitting under the dragon.
I will just mention a couple of texts that immediately came to mind after reading about the three different kinds of time. The Paperbag Princess in which the princess outwits the dragon only to find that her desires have completely changed once she completes her quest. The other is a magnificent and curious poem by Christina Rosetti called Goblin Market which to me has at least three different representations of the way time shapes reality. It also contains loving lists of fruits, the temptations and consequences of consumption, and two simply living sisters:
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Pluck’d from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
I am also looking forward to you unpacking Nietzsche further because his writing has kicked me out and left me slimed on a number of occasions!
Violet, an article on the coevolutionary ecology of unicorns and phoenixes would make an entertaining submission to an ecology journal…
Brother K., good. What typically happens as Dragon Time drags to an end is that more and more people lose faith in the abstractions that are central to the cultural construction of the world. If enough people notice that those abstractions, and the tools that work with them, are very well suited to some purposes — just not to all — you can get the sort of comfortable truce between reason and the nonrational that obtained in late Classical times, when reason and myth are both valued on their own terms. That truce is fragile, and can be shattered by any number of internal and external factors, but the longer it lasts, the more of the tools and concepts of the fading rationalism are likely to make it through Unicorn Time and enrich future cultures.
Roger, that's a perfect example of the way that the abstractions of Dragon Time, having become detached from reality, get jettisoned in favor of simpler and more concrete approaches that happen to work.
Johan, you're right that Barfield and I are talking about two different things in terms of “concrete” and “abstract.' Behind Barfield's analysis, of course, is Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom and its claim that thinking is a mode of perception of objective realities — a claim I'm still pondering, and will likely be pondering for quite some time. Thus his insistence that the truly concrete must include both objective and subjective. I'm talking about something much simpler, at least from a certain standpoint: can you point to a sensory figuration that illustrates the word? If so, it's what I mean by concrete. If not, it's what I mean by abstract. While there are other things going on, in terms of the historical cycle I'm tracing, that's the difference between ages I'm trying to indicate.
It's been years since I've read any amount of ethnology, and it would take some research to find the books I'm thinking of that dismantle “participation mystique” et al., the whole notion of “primitive” thought as, well, primitive, as an artifact of Western ethnocentrism. I'll need to do that research before these posts become a book, but that's a ways off as yet, and my reading stack is fairly full. If I find something, though, I'll post a comment.
Bruno, we'll get there. That's going to take more groundwork to explain.
Stacey, now there's a blast from the past! I loved Goblin Market. It's a source of delight to me that so many people are responding to the images I've proposed with their own creative metaphors and with literary references.
JMG & EMG
Thanks for the reference to Hofstadter Godel, Escher, Bach
. I have just taken in a lecture (Parts 1-7) via google/youtube by Justin Curry (MIT). Very useful – I wish I had learned maths this way.
The Universe seems to me to be a very communicative place with a lot going on between largely non-human structures busy influencing one another at every scale – one might call them entities. And for us there are many 'books' to read. To enter a good story as I learned as a child listening to stories or plays (I first heard the The Hobbit as a radio drama in the early 1950s), reading from a book or even watching a “cowboy movie”, needed a “suspension of disbelief”.
There are perhaps dragons and dragons. Once upon a time I fell in with some friends of friends who saw serpentine forms represented in the landscape. (We have ‘The Worm’ in the NE of England.) One such great form lay with its tail dipping to the river and its back rising in vertebrate humps that had been decorated with prehistoric enclosures and ‘hollow stone cairns’ (cairns putatively also of ancient origin), arriving finally to a brow cairn. This landscape form was adopted for pilgrimage led by a ‘seer’ (a modest nice man) who persuaded us to meditate on our journey and carry a small stone from the river to the brow cairn. This path was actually also a moderately popular Sunday walk, though for Britain it was in fairly wild country. The seer thought that we walked from ‘chakra’ to ‘chakra’.
I passed by chance again the entry to this same path this last Saturday. I remembered how I had been startled those years ago along the ridge when we gathered inside a hollow cairn which the seer called the ‘heart chakra'. He told us that if had we been ‘real pilgrims’ we would have given proper attention to the Vale of Forgetting. He referred to a modest dip in the ridge below us between humps. Some 20 minutes before, while chatting as we walked that dip, an older member of our party and I by chance had exchanged memories of our significant infant trauma related to fierce fires. The seer had not been party to our conversation, but was earnestly telling us that ‘real pilgrims’ across that Vale would have left behind memories no longer needed for the journey.
I had an enjoyable and memorable day.
To this day I do not understand ‘chakras’ – the term is not native to this land – but I guess the serpent of our own spine and its long lineage deserves respect as does the knowledge we carry with us or that we can discard. This ‘dragon’ appeared to be another book to read.
It's taken me several days to read this latest entry to try to really grasp it, and I'm thrilled to have images to contemplate. All the while I've been thinking in terms of my current study of herbs. I know some people and teachers who operate through what seems a blend of a Unicorn and Phoenix lens and others who attempt to operate strictly through a Dragon lens. The former seem to be able to use intuition and story to inform their methods, while the latter relies heavily on what scientific studies reveal about plant medicine via constituents, even if an [unacknowledged] incomplete language. The former are flexible and make room for the latter to be informed by science, but this does not usually flow easily both ways. It's like being in a strange land because those at the furthest reaches of Dragon thinking make a lot of sense to themselves but it can be hard to relate what they know back to activity happening on the ground, so to speak, which rarely fits into a tidy box. It doesn't provide any better explanation for why things do or don't work, and there is that brittleness that makes the inquiry nearly impossible. When there's a little more fluidity and less atrophy it seems like there can be a greater understanding, even if it can't be quantified. I don't know if I'm right or even how to work with it, but it seems to me that there is magic at work, for good or ill, because of the way some people heal and some don't. And then, what's beyond that? I'm not sure how much of a view I can ever really have. From another perspective, I'm not sure how anyone who came from a purely Unicorn view would function in this time, if it were even possible, and what might that look like? Do our artists and poets have greater access to this time/view? That could be frightening to someone who leans heavily into Dragon time. I discovered as I read a personal bias as it seems to me that Phoenix acts as a bridge in more than just time and it seems like a most exciting time and a most enlivening state of mind.
As I read my thoughts also turned toward people I know who are very abstract who look back at myth and story from another time and consider it too abstract to make use of in their own lives. It seems like once abstract enough, thought or a time can circle back on itself like the dragon that eats its own tail. I imagine that some have used magical practice as a way to engage with this transformation purposefully and others to try to make it conform. The former perhaps involving something like seeing the tide turning and choosing a narrative with which to proceed.
Finally, as I consider others who seem very one way or another (only to have the other pop up unexpectedly at the most inconvenient times), I can't help but see where and when I lean into Unicorn, Phoenix, and Dragon within my own life and experiences.
I enjoy getting to see how other commenters interpret the imagery and appreciate the many story references to follow up on.
Violet's recasting of our host's “three beasts” story has emboldened me to propose another, somewhat simpler, variation:
In this story, the Unicorn doesn't kill the Dragon; indeed, they never meet as such. Instead, there's another entity that comes between them. You may recall that dragons have also been called “worms”; another type of “worm” is the caterpillar, which becomes the Chrysalis (click on the link to read Elisabet Sahtouris' account of the transformation wrought in the chrysalis).
So I propose that the Dragon, having gathered all the treasure it can, becomes satiated; it falls into a torpor, its skin hardens, and within, its body undergoes the transformation, with the dragon's immune system gradually being overcome by the “alien” imaginal cells, until the hard shell at last cracks open, and out springs the Unicorn.
There's another aspect to this variation that I suspect John Michael noticed right away: I've transformed his triad into a tetrad. I read some time ago, somewhere on the web, his treatment of “magical number theory”; unfortunately, I don't remember enough to understand what kind of forces I've brought into play here. I look forward to being enlightened.
JMG, begging your indulgence on this but I'm trying to put what what I've read into the context of what you've written in your post.
I've read some of the books of the Old and New Testaments. And I listen to the acrimonious debate between “modernists” (can't think of a better term) that laugh at these books and “literalists” that insist that each and every word is unbending fact.
Do I think that God created the universe in six days? No, I don't. But I suspect that neither did the writers of Genesis, that is, to the writers, whether it was six days, hours, minutes or millennia was beside the point.
To use your terminology, I imagine these books were written in something like “unicorn time” when emotionally charged representations dominated human consciousness. I think that both sides of today's argument look at these books with a modern mind-set that would likely be alien (at least to some degree) to the writers of the stories. I'm not sure that the Biblical authors would know which side to take in this kerfuffle.
As you told me months ago there are many ways to read scriptures. I guess that comes from the fact of our distance from the writers. So, from a perch thousands of years later, how do we know what the writers were thinking? What was their own intent? Well, we know what was written. That would be a clue. But we don't know the writers themselves and the specific context in which they lived. So much is lost that only they would know that would shed light on the meaning and agendas of the works.
When was Genesis (as we know it) written? I'll bet nobody really knows. Was it a re-working of more ancient sources? But how ancient? From where? Maybe the origins would surprise us.
Regardless of their own historical context, the writers were human so there must be SOME commonality of experience with us. They must have thought and felt SOME of the same things as us.
The act of writing is the attempt to communicate with someone in the future. Would Biblical writers have visualized readers thousands of years later? Or were they writing for only those in the immediate cultural and geographic and temporal proximity?
There's a strong theory that many Biblical narratives are told twice and sometimes more times because the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, although familialy related, were also separate enough in their histories for long enough that they each had their own versions of their common deep mythic pasts, as well as them each having their own agendas (rival priesthoods for example) that caused them to emphasize things quite differently. After the Babylonian captivity the redactor put them together. He did a good job, but he couldn't just decide to leave one bit out, as the people of that tradition were expecting to hear it.
* * * * *
Reading through the comments, I've got some sort of bells going off in my belly regarding this iteration of completeness and (in)consistency. First, in societies' worldviews, then Godel's theorem, and what about the unsolved problems in physics between the quantum and Newtonian models? Can these mysteries be related? I've been pondering a kind of notion that there's a correspondence between dimensions and spirituality, and perhaps also quantum events, which is to say that perception is connected with dimensions. Leaving time out of it, we see in three dimensions. These dimensions seem to be what our bodily senses can perceive. Quantum events happen but don't jive with how our senses experience reality. But it is probably much like bouncing a ball into Flatland. What I am considering is that if quantum events make sense if we add another dimension, what if perception of things that we call spiritual are also in that dimension? There is the idea of a spiritual eye, the third eye, “If thine eye be single” and there is also a guy who writes about near death experiences activating a part of the brain, which once activated remains always more active than the usual dormant state. If so, perhaps this activation enables the person to perceive better in the next dimension, which does not necessarily mean a visual type of perception and could conceivably even include access to greater wisdom.
I believe the direction of this dimension is 'in'.
My point, though, is that we are perceivers with limits to our perception in a vast reality that might surely include more than what we can easily see, but yet we have long sensed and experienced other possibilities, and what if these other possibilities are literally part of the next dimension, which I'm assuming is the realm of “quantum weirdness”? As in, where and how do thoughts travel mind to mind? In the sub-Planck-length movements of the ether.
Plenty of times I misunderstand something my mother says. After digging deeper, turns out she has made links between categories that my abstract-trained mind would never dare to make. Links like between dates and house numbers, or names and events etc. I'm usually baffled as to how and why she makes those links (and sometimes they even sound like they could well be predicative).
After reading this I realised that she is probably (in her way) practising some 'magic'. Both her and I are religious, however it seems that the fundamentals of her religious experience are rooted in the senses, whereas mine are in abstract reasoning. Perhaps that's why barring a brief tumultuous period in my life, I generally haven't had many metaphysical experiences, in contrast to my mother who every once in a while will have some inexplicable thing happen to her.
I wonder: did my abstraction based education handicap me in experiencing a vast and rich metaphysical world out there? I think probably so. The only place I can feel things that are indescribable are music. I hope in the future you provide us with more ways of breaking that type of thinking.
Phil, terms like “chakra” had to be imported in the late 19th and early 20th century to make up for gaps in the available terminology. A few thousand years ago, people in your part of the world no doubt had a straightforward term for “a place where magical forces concentrate,” but modern English lacks such terms — or, more, precisely, most of its former magical vocabulary has been diluted into uselessness. Words like “charm,” “glamor,” and “charisma,” for example, once had precise magical meanings — but you can't use those words with those meanings now without guaranteed misunderstanding. So we borrow words from other languages that haven't undergone quite the same debasement.
Ing, excellent! That's the sort of reflection that concrete imagery is very good at inspiring — which is why it's so crucial a tool of thinking, and why its abandonment in a Dragon age leads to predictable difficulties. More on this as we proceed.
Dwig, funny. If I were constructing an ecology out of these three symbols, I'd probably have the worm that comes out of the ashes of the phoenix turn into the dragon, mature, and die in due time, having laid an egg that hatches into the phoenix; the detail here is that the unicorn is always present, while the phoenix and dragon are more transient. But your mythoecology may vary…
Roger, good. Very good. My take is that the fundamentalists and the modernists are both wrong, in that they insist on approaching the Bible in the Dragon Time manner — as though it were a collection of rational abstractions. Of course it's nothing of the kind; it's a collection of concrete sensory narratives that communicate their meaning to the whole self when approached in the right manner. The commonality of experience is there, because the nonrational levels of the human psyche don't change much, or at all, from one age to the next; it's only the rational superstructure that gets jerry-rigged on top of that foundation that varies.
Onething, I don't know enough about quantum physics to know whether the extra dimensions of that theory have anything in common with the continuum in which magic functions. I do know that the world is indeed a great deal weirder than any set of rational abstractions can express!
YJV, yes, too much study of abstractions can definitely get in the way of the other dimensions of human experience. You might consider, as a starting point, adding some traditional folktales or epic literature to your reading list, and for the time being, just read it for the enjoyment of the story. Later on, we'll be discussing how to unpack what's in those old and valuable narratives.
I think the thing that triggered the Chrysalis idea was the description in the article I linked to, of the “battle” between the caterpillar's immune system and the emergent imaginal disks (which arise from a different genome, somehow carried by the caterpillar); it reminded me of the idea that Dragon time carries the “seeds” of the next civilization, in the form of the survivors of the Dragon-induced crises. Also, the new fourth element reminded me of the alpha phase of C.S. Holling's “adaptive cycle“.
And “…the unicorn is always present” reminded me of Gebser's title (and main point): “The Ever-Present Origin”.
“the nonrational levels of the human psyche don't change much, or at all, from one age to the next; it's only the rational superstructure that gets jerry-rigged on top of that foundation that varies.” Does this imply that there was no cycling before the rational superstructure evolved? Or maybe, when homo sap finally learns to get rationality right, this continual cycling will cease (possibly to morph into a different kind of pulsing).
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Your explanation of why magic goes out of fashion during a Dragon time seems reasonable: losing track of the difference between experience and abstraction and coming to identify abstraction as real. I hadn't realized magic was a solvent for abstractions. As such it must be part of the solution 🙂
I think I may have made a number of other errors in my first comment. I equated structured forms of divination like geomancy and astrology with magical thinking. Comments by yourself and others suggested these disciplines (at least in their current form) could better be thought of as products of a Dragon time. Though they certainly involve a thinking process that is more by association (and so more along the lines how we link images in dreams) they also involve (in their current forms) a good deal of abstraction and theory. I suppose they provide a link between Dragon time and what preceded it. They are born in the dreams, myth, and direct intuition but find formal embodiment and structure in Dragon time.
I have some scientific training as well (engineering). I'm supposing magical training is much like musical training. I doubt the exercise of one way of thinking actually reduces one's capacity to develop others (not that you were suggesting this). Given enough time, I'd hope one could develop both ways of thinking. Perhaps to be a balanced integrated person, one should, but there are only so many hours in a day. The old saying, “If you don't use it, you lose it.” comes to mind. A capacity that is not exercised (or ever developed) eventually atrophies. I think this fits with your experience.
Perhaps this explains in part the devaluing of magic. Values are demonstrated in what one puts one's effort into.
@ History of Astrology Thread:
Astrology is a good test subject for JMG's three beasts as it has a very long pedigree. A type of proto-astrology, detailed in the Enuma Anu Enlil, certainly existed among the Assyrians and Babylonians and hints of it's origins go as far back as the Sumerians. The Enuma Anu Enlil itself was developed over an extended period of time during the second millennium B.C. From the series' origins in the first dynasty of Babylon it was progressively refined. The bulk of the development occurred from c. 1700 B.C. until c. 1000 B.C. Most of the standard associations of the planets were fixed during the time of the Babylonians, though there was no zodiac or ascendant back then, just 18 or so constellations.
A 30 degree per sign zodiac did not likely appear before the fifth century BC. Though it probably developed during the Persian period. During that time there was a switch in emphasis from mundane to natal astrology. Or more properly, the later first came into existence possible due to changes in cosmological perspective resulting from a change of religion from Babylonian polytheistic beliefs to the Persian Zoroastrianism.
The first known natal chart comes from Babylon for the birth date of 29 April 410BC and includes the signs of the zodiac. This is still before the Greek period. The Greek philosopher Diogenes Laertius, a much younger contemporary of Socrates, made comments that suggest natal horoscopes were being used in Greece at the beginning of the fourth century BC.
The next earliest know natal chart is from the Greek period of domination of Mesopotamia. It was made in Uruk for the birth date of 4 April 263 BC and includes planetary position by degree not just sign placement as in the Babylon chart. And finally of course there is Claudius Ptolemy and his Tetrabiblos in the second century AD. By his time, if not centuries earlier, the basic system we know now was fully formed.
The basic sweep of this development can be sensed by comparing the Enuma Anu Enlil to the Tetrabiblos. The later is filled with theory whereas the former reads like ancient legal texts i.e. if x happens then y happens: very concrete and specific. Its not too hard to fit these texts into the scheme JMG has laid out.
“In metaphysics it is believed that our Solar System rotates around the Pleiades, and that the asterism is a special point of creation for our local galaxy. High frequency energy from a more refined universe is channeled through the Pleiades, specifically the star Alcyone, which then encodes it with a specific shape and destiny it will assume in our three dimensional universe. Because of its unique function of feeding and nurturing our galaxy, the Maya referred to the Pleiades as the “teats of the rattlesnake.” In agreement with many ancient cultures, the Maya maintained that the creator of the universe was a serpent, snake, or dragon which possessed a septenary nature. They therefore portrayed it withseven heads, tails, twists to its body, or teats (or all of the above). It was also represented as a rainbow (as it is among the Yezidis) or as a rainbow serpent (as it is among the Australian Aborigines) that encoded all energy with the seven colors, tones, etc. The Maya and others often referred to this septenary serpent as the Son of God who was born at the beginning of time from the union of the primal male/female principles manifesting as spiraling energy. From a geometrical perspective, this primal union created not only a spiral but a vesica pisces, the “eye” and “seed of life,” which became the “flower of life” and then kept multiplying to become eyes manifest all throughout the universe. These vesica pisces eyes represent the omniscience of the primal creator, such as Tawsi Melek. They were colored either green, or blue-green, the middle color that reflected the union of the male/female principles. Thus, the combination of the blue-green color produced a Son of God in the form of an all-seeing blue-green dragon (the word dragon is derived from all-seeing), a dragon-peacock, or simply a many-eyed peacock. He was the blue-green dragon creator of the Chinese and Quiche Maya, or he was the blue-green peacock of the Yezidis. But whatever his form, one of his principle homes was the seven stars Pleiades.”
From ” theaccidentalalchemist.blogspot”
The Dragon, as it were, has been roaring louder and louder recently. There is a break in the atheist movement, with some atheists pushing for social justice as other atheists see no need for morals or justice in the movement. Daniel Dennet, Alex Rosenberg, and Patricia Churchland have all put out books declaring consciousness to be an illusion, which leaves out the fact that illusions are supposed to fool someone or something. How exactly does an illusion fool itself into thinking it exists?
By way of de-lurking, could the Unicorn be said to represent meaning, the Phoenix matter, and the Dragon stand for mind?
You mentioned on your other blog that there were gods of consequences, but they were unpopular. So far, all I can find is Nemesis – are there any others?
After reading this post I happened to listen to an audiobook of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. I was on chapter 7, where he mentions and briefly explains the Flynn effect. (Essentially Flynn noticed an upward trend in scores on standard IQ tests in the industrialized world, which eventually yielded the explanation that the thing the tests measure is not in fact human intelligence, but abstract thinking.) A Smithsonian article I read on the subject explained:
“What goes on in the person’s mind in the test room that allows them to do better on the test? One of the fundamental things is the switch from “utilitarian spectacles” to “scientific spectacles.” The fact that we wear scientific spectacles doesn’t mean that we actually know a lot about science. What I mean is, in 1900 in America, if you asked a child, what do dogs and rabbits have in common, they would say, “Well, you use dogs to hunt rabbits.” This is not the answer that the IQ tests want. They want you to classify. Today, a child would be likely to say, “They are both animals.” They picked up the habit of classification and use the vocabulary of science. They classify the world as a prerequisite to understanding it.” http://tinyurl.com/kn5tx2j
If I’m following, this would be the central aspect of Dragon Time? For some reason I expected it to be unfamiliar.
Seems that there are periods when people engage with God or his messengers. He/they speak to people, people talk back. But then there are periods of dormancy. Apparently no communication, no prophecies.
Maybe I shouldn't draw such a bright line. Because, someone might ask, what do we make of what happened at Lourdes? To her credit young Bernadette insisted on what they saw. Are such events only reported by kids who don't know any better?
Do events such as those at Lourdes happen more than we think? Or, for long periods of time, does God stop talking?
Or do people stop listening? Amazing how people ignore what's right under their nose. Maybe a dis-engagement, a stepping back? A new set of rules on how to think, on how to relate to the world and any engagement outside the bounds of those rules is not permitted. And so it appears that God goes silent.
No un-earthly, bright, shining messengers, no burning bushes, no voices out of nowhere while you're cleaning the stalls, no visions on the road to Damascus.
Or, if there are, we don't talk about them. Why? Because such things are “crazy”. You couldn't have seen it. Or, if you insist that you saw something strange, there MUST be a RATIONAL explanation. As you might say, there's a set of arguments to hammer into shape any experiences that don't fit into the box.
People know to be careful about what they say, because they know there are medical diagnoses for such things and medicines too.
Dwig, we'll never know what did or did not happen before the rational superstructure involved. We do know that in nonliterate cultures, there doesn't seem to be a definite cycle of the kind that's seen in civilizations, but rather a range of variability around a stable or slowly shifting center. I'm pretty sure that literacy is one key factor in creating the climate of extreme abstraction that defines late Dragon Time — there may also be others.
Agent, exactly. The history of a divination system that's been around for a while usually works like this: first you have an intuitive folk tradition emerging in a Unicorn era; it's reformulated as a specific set of techniques in a Dragon era; in the following Unicorn era it's enriched with mythic imagery and ideas, and becomes a framework for thinking; these new additions get systematized as technique in the following Dragon era; rinse and repeat, and you've got the kind of extremely rich system we see in contemporary astrology, the I Ching, or what have you.
Kutamun, note the way a cascade of visually connected images, rather than a series of logically linked abstractions, structures that passage.
Richard, excellent. Five minutes of sustained introspection is enough to disprove the claim that consciousness does not exist — which is one of the reasons why sustained introspection is so sternly frowned upon these days. Between this kind of silliness and the antics of Richard Dawkins, I expect the “angry atheist” movement to implode over the next decade.
Steam Druid, no, because all three of those factors are present in each of the historical periods I've named. It's the mental processes by which the world is experienced that define each age: concrete sensory imagery in a Unicorn era, abstract rational concepts in a Dragon era, and a never-quite-complete fusion of the two in the Phoenix era in between.
Kylie, all the deities associated with the planet Saturn are gods and goddesses of consequences, and there are others beside. Look for the deity of stern judgment untempered with mercy in any polytheist system — there's usually at least one — and you've got your deity of consequences.
WW, that's fascinating — and yes, it's a (if not quite “the”) central factor in Dragon Time. Note that the child in 1900 thinks of dogs and rabbits in terms of a narrative composed of pictures and events — a dog chasing a rabbit. That's Unicorn Time thinking. The fact that even children are thinking in abstract categories, and thus tend to lose the capacity to think outside those same categories, shows how deep we are into the late phases of Dragon Time.
Roger, surveys on unusual personal experiences have found that anything up to a third of the population has had at least one encounter with an apparent disembodied intelligence of some kind. It's still happening; it's just, as you've noted, that a Dragon Time culture like ours doesn't want to hear about it, and imposes various social penalties on those who talk about such experiences.
I couldn't help but notice a similarity between the path you've laid out for the course nations run and the course money runs. Since money is largely an abstraction of the energy in a system it makes some sense that as the degree of abstraction in the overall society increase so does the degree of abstraction with which that society views and relates to money/energy.
I see the Unicorn – Phoenix – Dragon pathway being mirrored in the Barter – Symbolic/Commodity currency – Fractional Reserve/Highly abstract finance pathway money has followed.
1. Barter – Trade via concrete experiences.
A pastoralist has a VERY strong personal and experience based idea of what it took for him to raise a sheep to slaughter weight. He was intimately involved in every step of the process and got his hands dirty and bloody as he went through the natural cycle of birthing, raising, and butchering. His bartering partner, a farmer, had the same VERY
strong personal and experience based idea of what it took for him to prepare his field, sow his crops, protect them, and harvest them through their own natural cycle. When these two people meet to exchange goods the embodied energy (can we even call it value yet?) represented in those goods is understood at a personal/ experience based level, and is therefore in the forefront in their minds as each has a “whole systems/embodied energy” understanding of what they are giving up and what they are getting through the interaction.
2. Symbolic/Commodity Currency (Gold/Silver, salt, etc) – Trade via a grounded abstraction.
Value starts to becomes an abstract concept but retains strong ties to concrete experience. Something I’ve always found interesting is the idea that the “value” of gold has remained relatively constant as its value is a proxy of the energy needed to embody it. So now instead of 2 people trading their personal “whole systems/embodied energy” products they are substituting the “whole systems/embodied energy” of a 3rd party gold miner/smelter/minter. This breaks the connection between the pastoralist and the farmer. They no longer need to consider the whole systems/ embodied energy dynamic of their trading partners, only their own.
3. Modern Finance/ Fractional Reserve Banking – Trade via abstract value for abstract products
Perhaps starting with the idea of fractionalized reserve banking (perhaps going back further ((Templars?)) the energy money is supposed to represent is itself abstracted from the abstraction of money. The last round of financial problems can be viewed as exactly what you are talking about in this article. People confusing the abstract notions of value (CDO,CDS, etc) and wealth with what actually underlies them (the real natural products and cycles of the real world) and blowing themselves because of it. These secondary and tertiary abstractions completely sever all considerations of “whole systems/embodied energy” dynamics between the members of an economy. The system therefore has no feedback capability. A participant doesn’t even need to consider the whole energy dynamics of their own product as everything is abstracted/moneitized and the only way to make more money to to create further abstractions (an expression of the final stage of a Dragon age?).
I suspect smaller cycles of a similar nature underly the business cycle and boom and bust/ bubble dynamics. If so it seems consistent across plains/reflective that smaller cycles of the Unicorn-Phoenix-Dragon also occur within the larger macro arc you’ve drawn out for us. I can also see a 4th turning POV is all this but have yet to reconcile the 4 part generational model with the 3 part structure you have outlined. Maybe too many abstractions are getting piled up 🙂
I’m enjoying this new blog very much but I admit that without several years worth of the other blog I would feel rather lost. Thank you for your efforts.
Gday JMG , i found the pleiades / dragon image fascinating … Ii am not sure who penned this one , it seems to tallly with Gareth Knights imagery in ” Qabalistic Symbolism “… Do you know of any other good writers in this vein ?
Donnie, excellent! Yes, that's another example of the process, and one that Vico probably would have discussed at length if economic history had been invented yet.
Kutamun, sorry to say I don't — I haven't pursued that end of occult literature in any detail.
Well , havent been able to let go of the Dragon ( Serpent) image all day , here are some notes of what i came up with :::
Druid Serpent Worship
Dragon of Pleiades
The number seven
Seven Rishis of the great bear
The Double Helix of DNA
Before the precession of the equinoxes , the vernal equinox , morning of the magician , was through Taurus ( uranus , uraeus , chokma)
Ourobouros , world serpent
Uraeus – Isis ( high priestess)
Fishes fire and flowers – gutenberg
The cosmic serpent – dna and the origins of knowledge ( jeremy narby)
Mythic astrology – ariel guttman
Secret teachings of all ages – manly p hall
Serpent myths of ancient egypt – williams rickett cooper
Worship of the serpent – j.b deane
Celestial ship of the north – e valentia
Irish Druids and old Irish Religions – james bonwick
Ian Ridpaths Star Tales
The Serpents Gift – jeffrey kripal
Flavia anderson – the ancient secret / fire from the sun
Tree and Serpent worship – james fergusson
Phillip gardiner – the serpent grail and ” brotherhood of the snake ”
The celtic druids – godfrey higgins
Children of the matrix- david icke ( gems through the darkened prism of a terrifically dark lunatic)
The watchers bound together to form the collective unconscious
The snake of choice , of ternary – brutally repressed by the romans and binary christians
Draconis ( saggitta)
Serpens Capud Cauda ( scorpio)
Ophiucus ( scorpio)
Hydra ( leo)
Thanks for letting me find my own way !
Ran into this post this morning and thought immediately of your dissections of abstraction-vs-experience: http://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130524-is-nature-unnatural/
The short version: the discovery of the Higgs boson (and the other discoveries that did NOT accompany it) makes the “trusted laws” of modern physics appear flawed. Science may not be as close to having All The Answers as we've been led to believe.
The key phrase in what you said is “led to believe”. The people working is the sciences know perfectly well that there are major holes in current theories – they're looking for places where they can drive wedges and find something new, interesting and, hopefully, surprising.
It's the priests of Science as a denomination of Progress that would like to lead you to believe that things are better known than they are.
Thankful for this introduction and looking forward to future posts, I'm a bit curious about your choice to time posts according to the solar cycle rather than moon phases. Does that have to do with a personal tendency towards the sun rather than the moon? Or maybe it's because you prefer to post on a fixed date (the 21st of each month) for the audience's comfort?
Do any of the other authors who write about the course of nations do a comprehensive assessment of all the various aspects of life that pass through the process from figuration through abstraction? It'd be interesting to see someone's attempt to track the process on as many levels as possible.
We've mentioned law, economics, religion, and science. Another part of our life that strikes me as moving through that process is that of naming. In Unicorn times, names hold magical power and grow over the course of lives through action and reputation. You have names like Sven the Unyielding, Rodric the Righteous… In Phoenix times, names begin to become organized into either family or clan names like the Mediccis or Mcdonalds, or trade names like the Smiths and Grangers, then in dragon times names become extremely formalized and tied to the legal system reaching its extreme in our civilization where names are often replaced with 9 digit identification numbers.
I wonder where else in every day life you can see the process unfold? Food? Music? Games? Romantic relationships?
Eric S makes an intriguing conjecture about names. One current term suitable to be abstracted in a headline is “my-Ex” or in a form such as “Celeb-ex seeks ban on …”. These become formulaic with their own rules / semantics? We seem to have lost the meaning in 'Mister', Gaffer, 'Mistress', or even 'Widow' or 'Ma'.
In earlier cultures there were conventions like 'son' or 'dottir'. In Welsh culture the process seems to have got a roll-over device in 'Jones the Post' and similar differentiations. The mix of personal and universal is one of the delights of human cultures. Does it oscillate and get lost along the trajectories of cultures?
Oh! It just occurred to me that to avoid the gaze and interest of the dragon, one need only dispense of the shiny baubles and other such trinkets.
Much to think about.
PS: Black cockatoos make a sad sort of screeching door sound. Every time that I hear these ancient birds, it always makes me think of what has been lost.
Oh yeah, understanding is unfolding in front of me too – after an exhausting hot day of digging out the new shed sites! Perhaps the lemon cider was a bad idea?
Of course, that is why the Unicorn time has such a different relationship to nature and material possessions – simply because there is no perceivable difference between people, possessions and nature in such a time. So obvious, yet, so obscured by our cultural overlay.
Ever since I started reading about historical accounts from this area, that understanding has eluded me.
Chris, totally agree about the black cockatoos. They give me the tingles every time.
A big heartfelt thank you to JMG and all the explorers here. The comments and JMGs' responses are a very important part of these posts; do they get integrated somehow when the book is completed?
Three cheers for I Ching, a bit of “rational magic?”. A blend of unicorn and dragon times I think.
A bridge that helped me keep the unicorn alive and well as the dragon grew and threatened to consume all before it.
I'm always a little shocked to hear a Scientist excoriate Astrology, on the basis of “those stars and planets are so far away, how could they POSSIBLY have any influence on us?” But what happens if you ignore the “physics” of astronomy, and simply look at the positions of the stars as a pre-literate calendar year, and the positions of planets within that field of stars as the multi-year calendar. Isn't it plausible that a child born before the harvest will have different experiences (both before and after birth) as one born just after? A child who learns to walk on the beach will see the world differently from one who learns in snow? So isn't it rational that personality traits might be a function of birth-month (and year; e.g., the years of famine, when Jupiter was in Pisces, or whatever.)
The critics of astrology must think that it's all and only about infinitesimally weak “forces”, though I suspect it's all about “history”.
(I'm not claiming that astrology is any better at predicting the future than, say, economics. I'm just trying to say that there MAY be an empirical basis under it all. After all, even economists recognize that barter happens, even if they can't agree on macroeconomic policy advice.)
Kutamun, do you have the dragon, or does the dragon have you? 😉
Laylah, thanks for the link. It's embarrassing to see how many scientists lack the basic education in philosophy to notice that “laws of nature” are mental models that more or less correspond to observed experience, and nothing more than that.
OmerOri, Druidry (at least the kind I practice) is more of a solar than a lunar path, so it seemed appropriate!
Eric, yes, it would be interesting to see the broadest possible survey of that kind, and no, as far as I know, nobody's done it. Are you volunteering?
Cherokee, nah, the lemon cider was an excellent idea. 😉 Two very solid points.
Jeffinwa, the comments are part of my learning process! They won't be included in so many words, but the revisions of these posts (and the unfolding of the ideas I'm presenting) are being shaped and guided extensively by the discussions here.
LatheChuck, okay, I'm impressed — I didn't know a frequency crystal from a ham radio could be used like a crystal ball. 😉 I'll be talking about this exact issue in this month's post, as I discuss the weirdly irrational rationalism of the current Dragon Time.
I'm not sure whether this is correct from your perspective or not, but it seems to me that the Unicorn, the Phoenix and the Dragon are with us always for they are us. It seems to me that in terms of the ascendancy of the three, they are like as to an opportunist, biding their time til conditions are just right.
This is pure speculation, but acceptance of limitations can delay the incursions of the dreaded beasts (Phoenix and Dragon).
Mmmm. The lemon cider was good too!
JMG & LatheChuck
What can the frequency crystal in a ham radio pick up from the starry background and all the invisible lenses ‘out there’ both near and far, which can be used for skilful forecasting? I await the next post.
I have been intrigued for a while between constellated figures (a constellation depends for identity on the point of view of the observer) and those which can be identified moving against a background. We can perhaps assume these latter figures contain their own internal identity not necessarily visible to the external observer. Interestingly the jewel-like configuration of the Pleiades I read somewhere is the only one of ‘our’ constellations that is formed by stars with actual proximity to one another, independent of our angle of view. And I note that even in a clear sky this beautiful formation is only really visible with the aid of a lens, unless I imagine you are less than 12 years old and viewing it under a Greek sky?
(My guess at the age of the observer derives from Magna Carta copied parsimoniously on many sheets of vellum by young boys with the aid of rolling glass rod lenses. These are not an easy read, even with a glass rod, but were judged legally potent enough.)
JMG said :
“The transition from the numinous, emotionally charged images that surround a civilization’s cradle to the finely wrought but passionless abstractions that gather around its deathbed takes place, broadly speaking, in three stages. It so happens that very often, those three stages are assigned distinct names by historians, which makes the process easy to trace.”
“The phoenix is a transition.”
Aren't all stages merely transitions?
That observation/question about transitions comes from something I've wondered about with martial arts as well as other subjects. For example, consider the myriad styles and approaches and the physical movements available to the body.
All is in constant flux and a snapshot at an instant gives a freeze-frame of a moment in that flux. For example, movement occurs and from a seemingly 'neutral' stance the body shifts as weight shifts and legs adjust position. A freeze-frame of a moment shows the body in a 'horse' stance while a frame or or so later the snapshot shows a 'leopard' stance.
These moments are not real per se, they just provide handy observational points. Different styles have observed and notarised these points and they gradually become codified until the flux is forgotten and the codified 'positions' form a canon.
A potential problem is that this canon raises the positions or stances to to be the core and the flux is forgotten or falls into the background.
So, with the trinity of unicorn, dragon and phoenix; like other trinities there can be aspects of a larger and smaller things – fractal constructions.
'I'm always a little shocked to hear a Scientist excoriate Astrology, on the basis of “those stars and planets are so far away, how could they POSSIBLY have any influence on us?”'
Maybe the scientists have raised the observational snapshots to canon like the stances of martial arts. If they were to take different observational perspectives, the canon of the what they accept as the foundation of reality would by necessity change.
Perhaps each man-old just depends on what freeze-frames are taken of our perceived reality – and since we each have varying perspectives, views and conclusions because of the processing of information, it might offer an explanation for the rainbow of systems of belief, behaviour and action.
Co-existing man-olds in flux and transition?
“Are you volunteering?”
-I may have to start at least collecting, even if it's only for me. I guess whether or not it ever got organized any more than a list in a private journal would depend on what I uncovered.
Yeah, eerie. They moved up here after the Black Saturday bushfires. Previously they were not in the area.
Scientists likewise roll their eyes at the mention of “crystal vibrations” as described by the New Age cheerleaders. Andy Warhol, dying with a necklace of “healing crystals” comes to mind. But those of us in the radio business find the idea commonplace. Of course, the amateurs (e.g., Warhol) have no idea what it takes to make a crystal vibrate usefully: careful slicing, along specific axes for particular purposes, sandwiching the crystal between metal plates, and connecting it into a particular configuration of other bits of metal, non-conductors, and semi-conductors ([or tubes]). A handful of pretty crystals (like this fist-sized geological specimen on my shelf), wound together with a shiny wire is decorative at best. But under the right circumstances, the crystal vibrates with such precision that a person at great distances can detect that vibration, among all other vibrations of only a few parts per million difference, and they can exchange thoughts, emotions, and information at will.
You can look at the crystal (though it's better if you don't), touch it, smell it, taste it, and listen for it, and have no idea whether it's vibrating or not, unless you have the use of some rather esoteric and specialized apparatus. Ham radio operators may never pause to think past the abstraction of “plug in, turn on, tune in, and push-to-talk”, but if you DO try to get to the bottom of things, it's a very deep rabbit hole.
Thanks, JMG. Coming from a Jewish orthodox background, I feel very much at home with the hybrid Jewish calendar of a solar year consisted of lunar months, and the concept of a solar month always felt strange and arbitrary to me. In recent years I started celebrating Solstices and Equinoxes (and also the “cross-quarters”), and now I can see a beauty in further dividing each quarter-year into three signs. Trying to open up to new ideas!
Gday JMG , toward the end of the intense dragon day i got pulled over by a Red Haired Policeman who issued me a speeding dine and advised me to ” slow down ” – ha ! Thanks Wizards . Guardians who mediate and intercede the Dragon that permeates this place . Not consumed by it or trying to harness it for their own temporal ends . That way lies trouble . ” dont try to bend the spoon , for that would be impossible , rather , simply try to understand the truth …..there is no spoon ”
Unicorn, Phoenix, and Dragon, as you've described them, have possible similarities to the schema I use to characterize approaches or modes of thinking about things in my own life. Faustian that I am, I use spatial metaphors to name them: path-like, map-like, and local (as in, locus-like, centered, rather than nearby).
Very briefly: working through a series of training lessons, cooking from recipes, carrying out the prescribed practices of a religion, and following a literal path through unknown territory are path-like. Congruent ideas are loyalty, trust, and fate. “Knowing your way around,” and developing or using the ability to synthesize, interpolate, and systematize are map-like. Congruent ideas are agency, choice, and independence. Singular focus on or appreciation of the immediate, all paths and maps disregarded, is local. Direct experience and emotion prevail there.
It appears that path-like resembles your Phoenix, map-like your Dragon, and locus-like your Unicorn. If this comparison is valid, the question becomes, can the personal circumstances in which one (willingly or unwillingly) takes on a local view tell us anything about the man-old transition from Dragon to Unicorn? Or vice versa?
I'm mentally drawn to the map-like. I'm impatient with paths; I'm always looking aside or ahead, wondering how the current path might connect with other paths, or about the territory in between. (This comment should serve as an example!) This makes me a poor student in some cases (where concentration on, or trust in, a practical path is a necessary step), a good one in others.
It comes less naturally to me, to throw away an abstract map and “localize” myself. Whitman's “When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer” (which is a concise and compelling illustration of the concept) notwithstanding.
But I've done it, for various reasons. Never entirely by choice, but never entirely regretted either. I fell in love with my wife so thoroughly that I not only willingly threw away most of my elaborate life plans, but subsequently found the whole general idea of life plans less appealing. Some maps I've left behind when the territory changed, and I doubted the value of the effort of starting over to build new ones. And in my creative pursuits, I've learned that I get better results by starting with an image or moment and building the work up via the medium itself (whether that's words, code, or some physical material) than trying to start with a map.
One advantage of local thought (unicorn-mind?) I've found, especially over map thought (dragon-mind?), is how it affects pain, including simple physical pain. It seems to me in dragon time, we inadvertently multiply immediate pain with systematic remembrance of past pain and anticipation of future pain. (Is dragon time always an “age of memorials”?) Pain becomes remarkably more tolerable in unicorn time. (How anyone could find Valhalla an attractive afterlife, given its daily woundings, used to baffle me, but in unicorn mind-set it's more understandable.)
If this is generally applicable (rather than just some quirk of mine), then I'm thinking, when the unicorn slays the dragon, there might be more mercy in it than malice.
I feel too lazy to think about or explain this thought in depth, but many of you seem to be under the impression that Unicorn time is somehow some kind of truer golden age (it may be in the magical sense, but in the everyday life sense it's by far the worst), Phoenix time is less golden, and Dragon time has no redeeming qualities. It might be more helpful to recognize that each age has its relative drawbacks and strengths rather than to put them in a plain old hierarchy starting with “good” and ending with “evil.”
Well said, Merle … If you find yourself living in a Dragon Age then chances are you are a member of The Fellowship of The Snake …..best learn to love it …Hissssssssssssssss !!!!!!!!!!!
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that chances of dying a violent death probably are higher in a unicorn age, and with the exception of societal collapse, probably lowest in a dragon age. This is basically what I was talking about.
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head….
It could also be interpreted as the precession of the equinox. Reading Luke in this light is interesting whereby Elizabeth is the woman in the age of Aries and Mary is the woman in the age of Pisces. The child representing potential.The Dragon in this scheme could be interpreted as the milky way, the hoard the stars (knowledge). The “iron scepter” (these days it would probably be titanium or carbon fiber) being the dominant narrative, will, zeitgeist…you get the gist.
It's also fun to interpret the beast of revelation as myself whereby the seven heads (body?), ten horns (mind?) and seven crowns (spirit?) are revealed in each of our lives.
JMG, I playing with your archetypes: unicorn, phoenix and dragon against the backdrop of the jewish temple (since I'm thinking in these terms already).
The Unicorn stands outside the gates (binary thinking), the phoenix is the symbols and ritual within it (open to interpretation), the dragon is the temple itself (formalized mind). The holiest of holies could be the three simultaneously. The symbolic cube (3 dimensions,6 sides -666?)is the phoenix, the empty space the unicorn and the law the dragon.
I don't know but that was fun.
First of all I would like the quote Descartes…
“Cogito Ergo Sum”
I consider this to be the first truth…
Past this, I am not sure how much you can prove…
I consider Descartes argument s beyond this theorum to be unfounded…
However,the Cogito is pretty much inviolate..
How can you argue against it?
Then, if you accept it, you must embrace the stoics…
I know I'm quite late to this, but the images of the Unicorn, the Phoenix and the Dragon started my mind of trying to think of how one yields to the other.
The Unicorn, as you said, moves silently. It is reticent and lives in the deep forest. The worm that has been dormant grows into the Phoenix, which lives five hundred years before burning itself out. When that happens, the dragon arrives to sit on the treasure hoard. It does that as long as it can before the Unicorn pierces its heart.
Where did the Unicorn go when the Phoenix rose? My feeling is that it didn’t go anywhere. It always lives in the Greenwood. But the tougher question for me is: where does the Dragon come from when the Phoenix has burned itself out? I know that Dragons have been called Worms and I wonder if that would be a fruitful connection to explore.
Anyway, this is a wonderful set of metaphors. Thank you!
Thanks JMG, I've been looking forward to this post. My own very limited experiences of the supernatural (for want of a better word) do not on the whole appear to me like interactions with other beings. Mostly I get electric tingling sensations all over my skin, sometimes corresponding to quite intense (ecstatic wouldn't be too strong a word) emotional states.
I am coming from a scientific materialist background. Can you or anyone shed any light on what I'm experiencing? (or perhaps more pertinently, what I'm not experiencing?)
I've made a little bit of an exploration of how the inhabitants of other planes might fit with a scientific materialist world view over at my own blog, just now.
The beauty of all this , dudes snd dudettes , is that we are far from the first psychonauts to travel these ” strange ” byways .
If as JMG suggests the mid nineteenth century represents the full flower of western civilisation ( now in sad decay ) then surely it follows there must be some real gems sprinkled among the great literature of the times , and the fifty or so years that follow . It was , as Spengler suggests , the full potential of the mathematical algorithm of the west , of which we are but tiny integers ….
Marcel Proust on Dreaming
A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu
“In Search of Lost Time “
“Indeed , what one has meant to do during the day it turns out , sleep intervening , that one accomplishes only in ones dreams , that is to say after it has been diverted by drowsiness into following a different path from that which one would have chosen when awake . The same story branches off and has a different ending . When all is said , the world in which we live when we are asleep is so different that people who have difficulty in going to sleep seek first of all to escape from the waking world . After having desperately , for hours on end , with their eyes closed revolved in their minds thoughts similar to those which they would have had with their eyes open , they take heart again on noticing that the preceding minute has been weighed down by a line of reasoning in strict contradiction to the laws of logic and the reality of the present , this brief “absence” signifying that the door is now open through which they may perhaps presently be able to escape from the perception of the real , to advance to a resting place more or less remote from it , which will mean their more or less having a ” good ” night . But already a great stride has been made when we turn our backs on the real , when we reach the outer caves in which ” auto suggestions ” prepare – like witches – the hell broth of imaginary illnesses or of the recurrence of nervous disorders and watch for the hour when the spasms which have been building up during the unconsciousness of sleep will be unleashed with sufficient force to make sleep cease .
Not far thence is the secret garden in which the kinds of sleep , so different one from another , induced by datura , by indian hemp , by the multiple extracts of ether – the sleep of belladonna of opium , of valerian – grow like unknown flowers whose petals remain closed until the day when the predestined stranger comes to open them with a touch and to liberate for long hours the aroma of their particulat dreams for the delectation of an amazed and spellbound being. At the end of the garden stands the convent with open windows through which we hear voices repeating the lessons learned before we went to sleep , which we shall only know at the momemt of awakening; while presaging that moment , our inner alarm clock ticks away , so well regulated by our preoccupation that when our housekeeper comes in and tells us it is seven o'clock she will find us awake and ready . The dim walls of that chamber which opens upon our dreams and within which the sorrows of love are wrapped in that oblivion whose incessant toil is interrupted and annulled at times by a nightmare heavy with reminiscences , but quickly resumed , are hung , even after we are awake , with the memories of our dreams , but they are so murky that often we catch sight of them for the first time only in the broad light of the afternoon when the ray of a similar idea happens by chance to strike them ; some of them clear and harmonious while we slept , already so distorted that , having failed to recognise them , we can but hasten to lay them in the earth , like corpses too quickly decomposed or relics so seriously damaged , so nearly crumbling into dust that the most skilful restorer could not give them back a shape or make anything of them .
Proust – The Guermantes Way – Part 2
Near the gate is the quarry to which our heavier slumbers repair in search of substances which coat the brain with so unbreakable a glaze , that , to awaken the sleeper , his own will is obliged ,even on a golden morning , to smite him with mighty blows , like a young Siegfried . Beyond this , again , are nightmares , of which the doctors foolishly assert that they tire us more than does insomnia , whereas on the contrary they enable the thinker to escape from the strain of thought – nightmares with their fantastic picture- books in which our relatives who are dead are shown meeting with serious accidents which at the same time do not preclude their speedy recovery . Until then we keep them in a little rat cage , in which they are smaller than white mice and covered with big red spots out of each of which a feather sprouts , regale us with Ciceronian speeches . Next to this picture book is the revolving disk of awakening , by virtue of which we submit for a moment to the tedium of having to return presently to a house which was pulled down fifty years ago , the image of which is gradually effaced by a number of others as sleep recedes , until we arrive at the image which appears only when the disc has ceased to revolve and which coincides with the one we shall see with opened eyes .
Sometimes i had heard nothing , being in one of those slumbers into which we fall when as into s pit from which we are heartily glad to be drawn up a little later , heavy , overfed ,digesting all that has been brought to us ( as by the nymphs who overfed Hercules ) , by those agile vegetative powers whose activity is doubled while we sleep “
Hi, I wanted to let you know that I referenced this essay in a post I wrote recently about the relationship of myth to science. If you have time to give it a read, I'd be interested to hear what you think.
Comments are closed.