Friday, December 01, 2006

The Archaic, the Magical, and the Mythic

The Integral movement in social and historical context: Integral Esotericism - Part Two Alan Kazlev 2-ii. The "Premodern" worldview
Human knowledge as a series of isolated and specialised disciplines is a result both of the sheer complexity and detail of the modern world and the mundane physical reality as revealed through empirical knowledge and understanding, and the current absence of an esoteric "wisdom tradition" in academia (there are indeed profound esoteric teachings in the West - Hermeticism, Anthroposophy, etc, but these are not accepted and often not even known by the mainstream).
But traditional and pre-modern cultures and worldviews understood reality in a holistic way. Astronomy and astrology, alchemy and chemistry, myth and history, magic and science, were not differentiated, but part of a single all-encompassing vision of the cosmos. This type of worldview and intuitive as opposed to empirical methodology is still retained today in its exoteric (outer, and often literalist) form by traditional religions, in a more syncretic manner, by the Perennialist or Traditionalist movement, and by the modern New Age movement.
According to Wilber, this "premodern" worldview represents an earlier stage in the history of human evolution, and hence in his holarchical view a more partial and incomplete understanding. I assert the exact opposite, that modern secular thinking is more incomplete, because it only understands a single reality (the external material), whereas premodern, traditional, and perennialist worldviews embrace many realities. This is not to deny the numerous facts and insights gained by western empirical method.
So certainly the modern understanding of the external mundane reality in all its precision and detail is far far in advance of anything the ancients could ever dream of, and increasingly, seemingly exponentially, all the time. And certainly no integral paradigm or meta-paradigm can afford not to take this material into account. But this is quite distinct from the varuious supra-physical and inner physical realities. Our external mundane reality - including the vast observable cosmos with all its stars and galaxies, is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg (to borrow Freud's evocative metaphor). This is why it behooves us to respect what other cultures, traditions, and also for that matter western esoteric traditions and teachings, say.
Evolutionary philosophers such as Steiner, Julian Jaynes[2], and Wilber, make the error of assuming that because people in the olden days lived in a society which taught a mythological worldview, their consciousness was of a dream-like nature, they lived in the unconscious and and they couldn't think as we do. This fallacy can be easily disproved by talking to anyone from a premodern culture; it can be seen that they are just as rational as a modern person. Conversely there are many modern westerners who are just as irrational as a premodern (consider Fundamentalist Evangelism).
Gebser presents evidence to show that what is here called the premodern actually includes three distinct stages or historical structures or mutations of consciousness: the Archaic, the Magical, and the Mythic. (In contrast to later developments such as Wilber's early evolutionary psychology (beginning with Up From Eden) and Wilber and Beck's interpretation of Clare Grave's Spiral Dynamics (A Theory of Everything), Gebser did not see these as evolutionary developmental stages.)
But one could equally, or even more appropriately I believe, interpret these structures as being parallel perspectives of consciousness equivalent to the different chakras, say, in that anyone can access all these stages. Of course, a great deal of this is enforced and reinforced by the collective culture and mindset, and this is what Gebser seems to be describing.

1 comment:

  1. Humans love to get themselves tied up in complex towers of BABEL.
    Did you know that the non-humans are natural Spiritual Contemplatives and that trees are the senior form of non-human life on this planet. And that they are quite capable of responding to Divine Grace and being devotees of a Spiritual Master? See for instance: