"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser


By David Angsten

Collective Catharsis

When will we finally emerge from the financial fog of the economic crisis?

Infectious Greed has posted this marvelously metaphoric photo of the city of Vancouver trapped in a temperature inversion. It reminds me of the "cloud-wrapped shores of Hades" encountered by Odysseus on his voyage to the Underworld. We currently find ourselves in a similar foggy hell, a seemingly unnavigable darkness, where "an endless deathful night is spread over its melancholy people." (The Odyssey, T.E. Lawrence)

As I noted in the introduction to my novel Night of the Furies, the dark voyage of Homer's hero is known as the Nekyia, the 'night sea journey.' The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw the Nekyia
symbolically as a journey into the unconcious--the source of the creative and instinctual forces of life.

Mythologically, the night sea journey motif usually involves being swallowed by a dragon or sea monster. It is also represented by
imprisonment or crucifixion, dismemberment or abduction, experiences traditionally weathered by sun-gods and heroes: Gilgamesh, Osiris, Christ, Dante, Odysseus, Aeneas. In the language of the mystics it is the dark night of the soul.

All the night sea journey myths derive from the perceived behavior of the sun, which, in Jung's lyrical image, "sails over the sea like an immortal god who every evening is immersed in the maternal waters and is born anew in the morning. ["Symbols of the Mother and of Rebirth,"CW 5, par. 306.] The sun going down, analogous to the loss of energy in a depression, is the necessary prelude to rebirth. Cleansed in the healing waters (the unconscious), the sun (ego-consciousness) lives again. (NYAAP)
Perhaps our current economic 'depression' is a societal version of this cyclical descent. The economy collapses, business undergoes a painful dismemberment, forcing us all to 'sacrifice'--a collective crucifixion--all as a necessary prelude to rebirth.

In a fascinating essay in The Spectator, Tom Stacey speculates that we need the occasional war or economic collapse:

I perceive something in the collective soul of man which from time to time secretly needs the catharsis of economic collapse or war, or even both of those grievous things. And I also perceive that, as that secret need grows in the soul, so is it ineluctably met.

...One way or another we get the cathartic catastrophe, the ruthless purge of the shallow motives and inducements we had grown habituated to responding to, and their replacement by certain profounder, more basic incentives: staying alive, fending for those we love, and maybe fighting and even dying for a cause or a country and the half-forgotten principles that define it.

Being forced to face the looming abyss leads to a kind of deepening, a profound reconnection with fundamental truths. Hell may be the very thing we needed all along.

Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld, Jan Breughel, 1598 (click HERE to enlarge)

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