When we encounter the word ‘Gods’, we think of entities related to ancient views of the world; of ages before science threw the ‘definitive light’ of repeatable and numeric method onto our subjective experience of the world. In other words, we think of an outdated symbol system; one that describes natural events, and which seemingly lost its relevance to modern man a long time ago. Mankind came to define itself by reflections of the ‘without’ – such as wealth, and stability, rather than what was ‘within’.
Until the advent of modern psychology, we lived in a world that was fixated on the fruit of the senses, with no thought to how we as ‘selves’ experienced and related to it.
After the pioneering psychologists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, we began to have a picture of the inner landscape that had some significance, instead of the random and meaningless flow of sensory impressions – plus the mysterious things called dreams. The psychologists recognised that this sense of ‘me’ had some validity; moreover, it had a structure, one shared by us all. Our inner architecture had rooms… Together, these rooms made up a mental and emotional construct we called ‘self’. When we act, we act from within this self. It has likes and dislikes, fears and triumphs,
In Freud’s model, which is often used as a foundation by those studying the interior paths to a ‘deeper self’, the regular ‘daytime’ self is divided into the (1) the lower passions – unruly and energy filled; (2) the image of perfection, such as a child might inherit from a stern church; and (3) the daily self (ego), whose impossible job was to mediate between the two, managing excitement and guilt while maturing a strong sense of being the ‘captain of the ship’.
Superimposed upon this were the elements of character, variously indicated and interpreted by systems such as astrology and, latterly, the findings of developmental psychology expressed in the mysterious figure of the enneagram; and historically related to the esoteric Christian work of the Desert Fathers, who mapped mankind’s highest ‘Christ’ potential to the lowly state of the average personality, and showed the latter’s weaknesses, yet linkage with the original nine deadly sins. These included acidia: the turning away from spiritual purpose, perhaps the most deadly in the face of much-need alignment.
All of these encouraged us to examine our inner lives, where we find not only psychology’s broader ‘containers’ but also encounters with certain archetypal figures – first pointed out by Jung – that appeared to correspond closely with the cast of ancient mythology – the Gods, heroes and heroines.
Those interested in the esoteric ‘mystery traditions’ were the first to point out that this was no coincidence; that the visualisation of such Gods were, in fact, examples of early teachings designed to take us on active imaginative journeys of ‘inner workings’ – landscapes loosened from the grip of the material in such a way that our consciousness is free to explore other realms of our interior, and literally ‘meet up’ with that which was trying to reach us from ‘within’.
We can envisage two worlds, set in an upper/lower relationship like an hour-glass, in which the sand grains glide through, vertically. To change the relationship of the worlds, we turn the glass over… a similar state to that of the Hanged Man in Tarot, who, though apparently sacrificed, is smiling…
These symbolic systems are reference maps to states of consciousness. For example, the Tarot card of the Hanged Man corresponds to one of the paths connecting the spheres on the Tree of Life (see below). On one level, it’s just a cleverly painted and striking image. On another it’s a place we live in when we are on a particular journey.
To be on that journey, we need to have a longing for reality…
This may seem a strange notion. Surely, we already live, firmly, in a reality? Well, yes and no. We do appear to live in a physical reality, but what of our interior one? Does that offer us the same stability of existence and purpose? And what about those ‘rooms’ that divide the ‘self’ into id, superego and ego? We may find we need to understand ourselves at the level of the everyday self, or psyche, before we can use that as a start-point for a journey into the beautiful interior world that appears to be much bigger and real than we had thought. This doesn’t mean we need to be psychologists; just that we need to borrow a few of their well-worked notions to help us on our way.
The mystical enneagram will give us the rigour to work with our psyche, showing us how our outer characteristics are closely related to deeper and more spiritual layers of ‘us’, and requiring us to strip away ideas and attitudes that are detrimental to that journey.
Once we have a clean foundation, the Tree of Life is there to show us a journey to a different Self, one that lives with the Gods and has always done so.
The Sufis would simply say that our one task is to look for love and the bestower of that love – the Beloved. In this task, no map is necessary, since we can always determine if we are closer this day than we were the day before, by how we feel. The work of that path, as with the enneagram, is to remove the obstacles to love.
Each of these systems, and many more, are the ways to align ourselves with something higher within us, and to make that a way of life rather than an idea which will soon fade. The intellect of the modern age is a wonderful thing… but it won’t take us to the Gods.
Only the whole of you can do that.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.