Thursday, March 29, 2012

The son of chaos

In a primeval forest. An elephant looms up menacingly. Then a large ape-man, bear, or cave-man threatens to attack the dreamer with a club. Suddenly the "man with the pointed beard" appears and stares at the aggressor so that he is spellbound. But the dreamer is terrified. The voice says, "Everything must be ruled by the light."

This is another post about the role of "satan" in the psyche. Earlier, I'd explored his role as the instigator; the problem that breaks the false peace and opens the door to further growth. Here he shows another face, that of the double natured intellect which can both possess us and cut us off from living, but can also be the most powerful weapon we have in facing and illuminating the chaotic contents of the unconscious.

In an earlier dream we meet the "man with a pointed beard," the demonic Mephistopheles who guided Faust in his journeys. As long as we identify the conscious intellect as the supreme, or even the only, aspect worth anything we are possessed. In the following dream (which occurred before the dream about the ape man), the Mercurian intellect is separated out as an independent identity, which allows us to begin to understand it.

The dreamer is in America looking for an employee with a pointed beard. They say that everybody has such an employee.

America is the land of practical, straightforward thinking, uncontaminated by our European sophistication. The intellect would there be kept, quite sensibly, as an employee. This naturally sounds like lese majeste and might therefore be a serious matter. So it is consoling to know that everyone (as is always the case in America) does the same. The "man with a pointed beard" is our time-honored Mephisto whom Faust "employed" and who was not permitted to triumph over him in the end, despite the fact that Faust had dared to descend into the dark chaos of the historical psyche and steep himself in the ever-changing, seamy side of life that rose up out of that bubbling cauldron.

From subsequent questions it was discovered that the dreamer himself had recognized the figure of Mephistopheles in the "man with the pointed beard." Versatility of mind as well as the inventive gift and scientific leanings are attributes of the astrological Mercurius. Hence the man with the pointed beard represents the intellect, which is introduced by the dream as a real familiaris, an obliging if somewhat dangerous spirit. The intellect is thus degraded from the supreme position it once occupied and is put in the second rank, and at the same time is branded as daemonic. Not that it had ever been anything but daemonic - only the dreamer had not noticed before how possessed he was by the intellect as the tacitly recognized supreme power. Now he has a chance to view this function, which till then had been the uncontested dominant of his psychic life, at somewhat closer quarters. Well might he exclaim with Faust: "So that's what was inside the poodle!" Mephistopheles is the diabolical aspect of every psychic function that has broken loose from the hierarchy of the total psyche and now enjoys independence and absolute power. But this aspect can be perceived only when the function becomes a separate entity and is objectivated or personified, as in this dream.
(p. 141)

As with all the different parts of the psyche, Mephisto/Mercurius/the intellect has a helpful side as well as a dangerous one. After we realize that he's just one of many parts of us, he can help us to understand the parts of us that are in the darkness.

At the last moment, friend "Pointed Beard" appears on the scene as an obliging deus ex machina and exorcises the annihilation threatened by the formidable ape-man. Who knows how much Faust owed his imperturable curiosity, as he gazed on the spooks and bogeys of the classical Walpurgisnacht, to the helpful presence of Mephisto and his matter-of-fact point of view! Would that more people could remember the scientific or philosophical reflections of the much-abused intellect at the right moment! Those who abuse it lay themselves open to the suspicion of never having experienced anything that might have taught them its value and shown them why mankind has forged this weapon with such unprecedented effort. One has to be singularly out of touch with life not to notice such things. The intellect may be the devil, but the devil is the "strange son of chaos" who can most readily be trusted to deal effectively with his mother...

The voice finally declares, "Everything must be ruled by the light," which presumably means the light of the discerning conscious mind, a genuine illuminatio honestly acquired. The dark depths of the unconscious are no longer to be denied by ignorance and sophistry - at best a poor disguise for common fear - nor are they to be explained away with pseudo-scientific rationalizations. On the contrary it must now be admitted that things exist in the psyche about which we know little or nothing at all, but which nevertheless affect our bodies in the most obstinate way, and that they possess at least as much reality as the things of the physical world which ultimately we do not understand either. No line of research which asserts that its subject was unreal or a "nothing but" has ever made any contribution to knowledge.

(p. 165)

The helpful Mephisto is thus necessary for an honest exploration of the depths - in fact, without his help, we would be overwhelmed. The differentiated conscious is a powerful tool in the individuation process - just as the Self needs the ego for the process, the unconscious needs consciousness. We may have gone too far as a society (and individually) in an unbalanced direction but a strong, healthy intellect is one of the best tools we have in our toolkit for furthering the process.

  1. Jung, Carl G., Dreams.

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