Beasts and Caesars

“Society reposes on the fact that man is a creature of habit. By interlocking the various habits of many men, society obtains a structure which may be compared with that of a running machine… Let anyone try to realize what would happen to himself if all those on whom he depends – the postmen, railwaymen, butchers, bakers, printers and very many others – were suddenly to vary their settled routines; he will then begin to appreciate in how great a degree the power of modern man over nature is due to the fact that society is a ‘going concern,’ or, in the language of the engineer, has momentum. Stop the running long enough to throw men’s habits out of gear with one another, and society would quickly run down to the simple reality of control by nature. Vast numbers would die in consequence.”
Sir Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality 

“He calls it Reason, using light celestial
Just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”
Goethe, Faust


The recent rumblings between Iran and Saudi Arabia are capable of invoking nightmares among those of us concerned about oil as a weapon. Right now we are watching a confluence of saber rattling and sectarianism against the background of the rising militant Islamic State. Let us all pray this particular confrontation develops no further. Business as usual in the world’s industrial societies is 100% dependent on the uninterrupted flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. If the flow of oil were to be interrupted, particularly for any great length of time, the situation industrial societies find themselves in could get real interesting, real quick. Some might even say it could be apocalyptic.

We left off last week in our examination of the Biblical Apocalypse by highlighting how the image of Babylon captures well the world neoliberalism has created. The central role of finance and the trading of goods is taught in that Biblical book to be the Achilles’ heel of empires, and that it is the hubris of the emperor’s cult which is to be resisted.

That post also laid out the splitting of trinities; the mirror images of God-Father, Christ-Son and Holy Spirit are reflected in the Book of Revelation by the Dragon-Father (mother?), Whore-Daughter, and unholy beast. This was presented in the context of the psychological phenomenon whereby unconscious material first presents itself to consciousness as if it is split in two. The maturing of the psyche, individuation, comes about with a reconciliation of these opposites, a reconciliation recognizable in the schematic layout of mandala forms.

This week we are going to apply the interpretive key of the splitting phenomenon to some of the remaining characters of the dark trinity of the apocalyptic story. When laying out the mirror images above I overlooked a detail; there is not one beast described in the book but two. That is, the symbol of the beast is itself split. There is said to be a beast of the sea – which historically in the book stands for the Emperor of Rome, likely Domitian. The other beast is said to be of the land and historically most scholars associate it with the Roman provinces and their principal governors. They are said to promote the worship of the first beast and his image, the royal visage on the coin of the realm. We can see why they promote this state of affairs when in their lament for the fallen Babylon “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn for her, because there will be no more markets for their cargo…”

The image is of the Emperor ruling the sea and like the Illuminati octopus (joke folks) extending his imperial reach across the globe through every port city. A type of geopolitics with a world island is being described.

If the appearance of the two beasts is taken as a case of splitting it hardly follows the typical pattern where one side is all good and the other evil; both after all are a part of the dark inversion. Perhaps we can throw more light on the symbols by comparing them with their counterparts in the light trinity, namely the Holy Spirit.

Carl Jung spent considerable effort in explaining the implications of the feminine, earthly fourth said to be necessary to balance the masculine, heavenly trinity at the heart of Christian theology and western culture. He was inspired, in part, by the alchemical Axiom of Maria which stated (using Marie-Louise von Franz translation) “Out of the One comes Two, out of Two comes Three, from the third comes the One as the Fourth.” It was Jung’s contention that the West had developed lopsidedly by enthroning the light of reason and damning all else – all the other experiences of human consciousness such as dreams, visions and altered states. This neurosis was said to be related to our inability to properly integrate the feminine values of nurturance and compassion in our overly masculine and competitive culture. By his light the result would be an irruption from the unconscious of just those repressed elements needed to rebalance the collective psyche and steer it away from madness.

He thought the occurrences of widespread UFO phenomenon was a psychic manifestation in individuals of the unconscious material breaking through, noting the mandala shape often associated with UFO sightings. He also saw in the Catholic Church’s 1950 declaration of the Assumption of Mary as dogma a powerful corrective being applied right at the heart of the matter. With the Assumption the feminine and earthly were returned to the trinity, creating the three-fold / four-fold wholeness that is the mystery of the mandala. The Holy Spirit and Mary are now forming a reconciliation of sorts; the spirit in the pure womb, the container and the contained.

The growing concern for the state of the planet and the growth of small-is-beautiful lifestyles are further manifestations of this same eruption into consciousness, the same rebalancing of the collective psyche. In this model what each of us do matters a great deal as it will either lend weight to the ongoing evolution of the  mind’s individuation – and the accompanying strengthening of the dignity and compassion that goes along with being such a human being – or obversely throws its weight onto the precarious burden of rear-guard movements already threatening regressive madness.

Babylon pointed to trade and finance as a warning. The beasts point to politics with theirs. Man can indeed be wolf to man. When must we most watch out for this slide into political butchery? The warning in the Apocalypse story seems to be related to what has been called the rise of the Caesars. This is a stage when the strong man appears promising to restore order once the empire is rotten at the core, the collapse of complexity is well underway and the habitual daily habits that once supplied the populous with goods and services has been disrupted. The masses giddy with idealistic freedom after the French revolution did not take long, once the food was no longer forthcoming, to find and enthrone Napoleon.

In the Biblical story all this is symbolized by the special time being depicted. What is happening on earth is reflected in heaven, the realm of pure ideas if you will, where the Dragon has been cast out and takes with him a third of the stars of heaven. This image of stars crashing to earth is but the most dramatic of a series of natural disasters said to plague the human inhabitants of the earth at the time of Revelation. Scholars of apocalyptic literature explain the disruptions of the natural order are reflections of the societal breakdown from which apocalyptic literature is born. The beasts then warn us about the types of politics that accompany such times; the politics of collapsed states where it is rule by the ruthless and the law of the jungle prevails. Beasts indeed.

As events along the curve of society’s catabolic collapse accelerate the people naturally look for a strong leader who promises to deliver them from the painful dangers and uncertainties of societal chaos. The earliest kings were likely the toughest SOBs around. Something similar is taking place here. The aura of safety around the great man, even if illusory, is seen as a life preserver to which the people desperately cling.

With the fall of Babylon the beasts come. This is how Oswald Spengler puts it in The Decline of the West, “… the Caesar-men. Before them the omnipotence of money collapses. The Imperial Age, in every culture alike, signifies the end of the politics of mind and money. The powers of the blood, unbroken bodily forces, resume their ancient leadership. ‘Race’ springs forth, pure and irresistible – the strongest win and the residue is their spoil. They seize the management of the world, and the realm of books and problems petrifies or vanishes from memory.”

I think what the Apocalypse offers are warnings; their symbolic inheritance captures lessons learned from a particular time and place that are being presented to speak directly to any other time and place that might find itself dealing with the same dangers. This is a bad time for good people, the story says; the Dragon sends a flood of persecution to try and sweep away the “church.” The Western Revelation captures what we as a people have learned about the ways of humanity and empire. From the esoteric point of view to read it as just some sort of religious faith document is to largely miss the point. We moderns must remember we are unique in setting religion in a box, optional but ultimately unrelated to the worlds of politics and economics.

We don’t want to go here if it can be avoided. America as a collapsed state would be a very poor condition for the world to find itself in. These real life horrors come in degrees so we can rationally hope that strengthening and spreading pockets of sanity might tame the descent into madness. The long descent as the global financial system teeters, aka Babylon falls, and our societies shed excess complexity need not be accompanied by a descent into social chaos. Disruptions of law and order can be contained if we work to encourage one another in appreciating and celebrating the blessing of life lived simply. There are many broken cornerstones in our politics today but we are pretty clear on what they are and what it would take to fix them. In spite of the headlines of gloom the good that people are able to manifest, if they so choose, remains an overwhelming characteristic of daily life for the vast majority. We can draw on that as we face the work of societal transformation we are all caught up in whether we like it or not.

It is a sad truth about human nature that often we do not appreciate a good until it is gone. We should all hope and work so that this does not become the case here. Just as with contemplation practice we can learn to perceive the preciousness of what we have without losing it, so with similar concentration on our country’s founding principles we have a good chance of getting through the next few challenging decades with our dignity intact.

Otherwise we just might find ourselves in that other part of the Apocalyptic story, the one that takes place on the fields of Armageddon. This is the western cremation ground. Here at last, and in final form, the ego learns it is not in control and does not have the final word; that it has been ignorant about reality. Human hubris is slaughtered; the meek inherit the earth and the clear light of the heavenly city, that jeweled mandala of the west, shines forth. It is a fitting conclusion to the Bible that has taken the ego’s journey as its theme. It is not however meant to be a Pentagon planning document as fundamentalists of every stripe the world over mistakenly believe. For them it is a trap. Here, in the core stories that carry such gravitas in the western psyche, it is very dangerous to mix the planes and eat the menu instead of the meal.

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