Beholds itself, and knows it is divine;
All harmony of instrument or verse,
All prophesy, all medicine, is mine,
All light of art or nature; – to my song
Victory and praise in its own right belong
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Hymn of Apollo’, from ‘Posthumous Poems’, 1824)
Unsurprisingly, for a god who has come down to us in this rather neat and narrow prevailing form, Apollo has become de facto ‘patron saint’ of science, technology and medicine – so we name our best rockets after him as we rise, tumescent, for the moon; or we use his name for our cinemas and theatres – ‘The Apollo’, the place of spectacle, maybe even unconsciously, of Oracle?
But it isn’t this objective Apollo I am interested in here, rather the lost (murdered?) sense of oracular Apollo ‘oulis’, Apollo the sometime lover of Persephone, Apollo the incubator, the deadly healer, the Orphic paradox who dies to heal, heals through apparent death.
Peter Kinglsey speaks of parricide as the ultimate crime of the ancient world, and shouts ‘J’accuse!’ at unimpeachable Plato – arraigning him for the psychic dispatching of Parmenides, and by implication, the deepest core of our lost Apollo. The deed is done, the temenos taped off, a chalk outline on the floor, the primary scene is set, who you gonna call? It is best we ask the fallen god directly, incubatorially, like the ardent young Keats:
“Where – where slept thine ire,
When like a blank idiot I put on thy wreath,
Thy laurel, thy glory,
The light of thy story,
Or was I a worm – too low crawling for death?
O Delphic Apollo!”
(John Keats, ‘Hymn to Apollo’, 1815)
It has been well documented, in a variety of ways, that a crisis besets our age – whether ecologically writ, economically sketched, socially, politically, morally, judicially denominated – however we wish to express it today. I like Sharif Abdullah’s model (Creating A World That Works For All, 1999)– he calls the ‘crisis with many names’ The Mess, and traces a neat trinity of interwoven processes, or stories, within its maelstrom. These three he identifies as living narratives, worldviews, belief systems, ideologies – and they are those of the Keeper, the Breaker and the Mender. Keeper forms are oral, indigenous, unmediated, unitive, still in relationship with the wild; Breaker forms are all the things we know so intimately, marked by separation, extractive domination, zero-sum games; Mender reality is an emerging property of the Mess, the crisis, and the ecstasy of collapse, the moment of verticality. It is implied but not yet quite immanent. We are, in Sharif’s terms, at a point of ‘living between the stories’. Breaker culture is clearly dying it could take the biosphere with it; Keeper culture ceased to be available to us a long time back and persists now in pockets of grace, hints of deeper time, so we are new, we wannabe Menders – marked as former Breakers breaking out and into an impossible, inevitable new now.
At such a time, a god like the Apollo I’m looking for might well be of some assistance – and it seems pretty clear that he was ‘murdered’ back at the moment when eternalised Keepers began to yield to nascent Breakers (Parmenides spoke out of Keeperdom, Plato, Aristotle and the rest, from the arousal of a new concretised time – in fact, even time changed in that process, from oral to textual, ancestral to commodified… the Breaker world first breathed in that passing). Origins pass into Dominance, which ruptures open into Emergence. And now we stand in a broken world at the emergent threshold, godless.
There’s another aspect to this, not to be overlooked; call it the Solzhenitsyn defence (from the Gulag Archipelago) – that survival imperative of Breaker-essence:
‘May you die today, so that I can die tomorrow’
An acknowledgment of futility – since in the long run, we’re all dead – but seeded with that separatist desperation, that clear-eyed cannibal cynicism, ‘make no bones about it, this separate self will consume you if it keeps me going another day, brother.’ This is our moment, all around us we see it – divide and rule, resource wars and their proxies, selling out the future survivability of the biosphere for another day in Disneyland. We are traumatised, for sure – and our trauma is individuated out of our object-world, our things, our event matrices… trauma is “whatever we cannot entertain as a fiction because we have turned it into a religion”. Progress, techno-bio-psychological or eco-politico-social, or spiritual-temporal, it is always Progress we kneel before and that exacts upon us the taxation of traumata.
And yet, falling into grace, it turns out that we have homeopathic imagination, in Greg Mogensen’s salty phrase:
“The smell of today’s rose calls into play the absent roses, the roses of yesterday. The rose constructs their smell by an act of deconstruction. I smell my sensations by comparing them with my repressed sensations, the subtext, the latent homoerotic brotherhood of resembling sensations in memory. I smell the nuanced difference of these sames. But this natural bent of the mind, this play of resonance and resemblance, is short-circuited by trauma”; and
“trauma polarizes consciousness into opposites… an overwhelming event, an event which cannot be contained for lack of analogies, traumatizes and polarizes the mind”; and
“To break out of the heterogeneous trauma cycle we need to enter the homeopathic mind. Like cures like… we can only turn an overwhelming event into an absorbable experience by comparing it with other resembling events. Together we can compare notes and read the larger story in terms of which we can locate ourselves uniquely, particularly, discretely”
(Greg Mogensen, A Most Accursed Religion – When Trauma Becomes a God, 2005)
The point being, life between the stories is born out of Breaker trauma into an extended traumatic-unknown, and requires, perhaps, a homeopathic dose of imaginal origin – a reconnection, a religio in fact, to bring about a matrix in which we can consciously comprehend our part in the new, emerging story. The homeopathic dose, for Western Civilization anyway, might properly be called Apollo.
What is it, dear tenacious Breaker, that allows us to think something as self-evidently base as ‘hydrofracturing’ tight shale rocks for a meagre gruel of third division hydrocarbons is not only a good, right and proper idea – but is also practical evidence of our mastery, dominion and cleverness? The answer is in two parts – the first part, our old friend Progress; the second, what is often referred to as the‘problematique’. Progress, of course, refers to ‘movement toward’ a goal, place, person or thing – a directional spatial movement, making sense only relative to other motion – like the other ‘gress’ words: regress (movement in reverse), digress (movement away from, or turning aside), aggress (to initiate movement, especially in attack), congress (to move together), ingress (the movement into, entering) or egress (motion out of, exiting). Progress then, if it means anything, describes the imperative of ‘forward motion’ in a linear sequence – hence, lends itself to rational, horizontal, orderly, predictable, correct movement approved by our friend Historic Apollo.
The problematique, on the other hand, is ‘a structural model for enhancing human understanding and facilitating the development of action plans for correcting undesirable situations’ a sort of map of relationships between sub-problems within a holistic system of scalable problems; at its largest scale ‘all the things wrong in the world’ from war planning to philosophy via exponential growth, poverty, hunger and disease. It is a summation of all the territories we occupy by reason and logic, and an insurance policy against ‘acts of god’, wrapped in a hubristic self-anointed vision of human efficacy – we can anticipate, engage with and solve any and all problems.
It also functions as an imperative, since any technological ‘wins’ increase notional demand and efficiencies, victories are pyrrhic and brief (think 1950’s sci-fi visions of the future, then look out of your window – see any flying cars? Or open an energy bill – is there free fusion power? Are you and your loved ones disease-free, happiness-filled? You get the idea) and we’re quickly back into the exponential function, the laws of thermodynamics apply, the ‘law of the minimum’ butts in (my money is on available fresh water as the most effective limiting minimum), and it becomes apparent that entropy never sleeps. So we all go round again, but tighter this time, and then it occurs to us to start fracking the hell out of our bedrock, best idea we’ve had all day – proof of our innovative brilliance, but also of our fundamental limitation and capacity to sweet talk ourselves into filthy bubbles of oblivion. Besides, we love drilling stuff, we probably even call our drilling rigs and wells ‘Apollo’, in a nice phallic retooling of our rocketry phase (OK, in curiosity I just Googled ‘Apollo Drilling’ – there’s one in Victoria, Australia offering ‘diamond coring’, another in Colarado, USA engaged in ‘aggressive oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain region’, one in Ontario, Canada drilling water wells… you can’t make this stuff up – in fact, you don’t have to!)
Even so, inwardly we frack the psyche as much as we could ever frack the Marcellus shale pockets for a squeezed in sweet spot or the Bakken bowl for tight oil, all the while pumping in a secret bespoke blend of propants and gels, surfactants and biocides, acidizers and casing cements in a manner that makes their ‘external’ analogues look marvellously clean and sane. Remember, we are the environment, the inner and outer are one, the flaring and venting aren’t only at the drill head, and the deployment of military-spec psy-ops personnel and methods is not accidental – we made them, trained them and invited them into our minds in a million choices and gasps of ‘progress’.
‘Man is a by-product of mere chance’ becomes ‘I am a worthless person’
‘We live in an alien universe ignorant of our destiny’ becomes ‘the world is an inhospitable place’
‘We come from nothingness and return there at death’ becomes ‘my past is a tragedy, my future is hopeless’
From this comparison Frecksa goes on to ask if Official Scientism is actually locked into a depressive micromanic delusion, manifesting as an extreme psychosis – fracking is now a symptom of despair, not grandiosity, of cynical delusion rather than super-narcissistic ‘right’.
“Can the negative thinking of Western rationalism lead to a pathologically flawed underestimation of the human potential in a manner akin to a psychotic depressive delusion?”
(Ede Freckska, ‘The Shaman’s Journey – Natural or Unnatural?’ In ‘Inner Paths to Outer Space’ Strassman et al, 2008)
Critic and writer John Horgan makes a similar point, speaking of Francis ‘DNA’ Crick:
“In a sense Crick is right. We are nothing but a pack of neurons. At the same time, neuroscience has so far proved to be oddly unsatisfactory. Explaining the mind in terms of neurons has not yielded much more insight or benefit than explaining the mind in terms of quarks and electrons. There are many alternative reductionisms. We are nothing but a pack of idiosyncratic genes. We are nothing but a pack of adaptations sculpted by natural selection. We are nothing but a pack of computational devices dedicated to different tasks. We are nothing but a pack of sexual neuroses. These proclamations, like Crick’s, are all defensible, and they are all inadequate”
(John Horgan, The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication and Explanation, 2000)
So it would seem our collective propitiating of the great god (algorithm?) Progress and his priestly caste of Official Scientists, Doctors and Technologists, is at best a late-flowering Venus flytrap of Breaker design. It will not translate into the ‘in-between’ stories of our time, it is guaranteed only to dish up the same unsatisfactory narratives we already know by hear. It will not help us, and it may very well kill us before we hear a better tale unfold. How much more interesting, then, to ingress, to go within-beyond, to follow not the white coats but the dreamers – the iatromantic pioneers of the deep past, incubating their consciousness into a different ground, in complementarity and service:
“In essence they manipulate non-local correlations and their conversion into local information, which may involve the transfer of direct-intuitive-nonlocal experience pertinent for healing to the level of cognitive symbolic processing”
Which is, in effect, nuerobabble for shamanism.
A final stir of our stew, thrice-times three widdershins with a wink to our shade, Apollo. There is a process observed in neuroscience often called ‘the law of neural pruning’. It shows how at critical points in ontogenesis and immediately prior to developmental leaps, the brain experiences marked reductions in ever smaller scales of information processing systems. More dramatically, this process is sometimes referred to as ‘neuron death’ – so, for example, by the time of our birth we are already denuded by an order of magnitude of our neural potential whilst in the womb. By age two we experience axonal arborisation, hence the peaking of our capacity to lay down new nerve fibre (just as we deepen into socialization, communication, sharpened perception). At puberty we undergo synaptic pruning (linked to onset conditions for Piaget-like concrete formal operations, the basis of abstract thought). How shall we construe this? For the human brain, at least, via the evolutionary mechanism, it would seem pretty clear that less is more. Like a peasant with his pear tree, judicious pruning yields more fruit – reductions in overall complexity create abundant expressions in particular areas. According to Frecska there is no reason to believe that the ‘law of pruning’ ever ceases within a human life-cycle – intimating a possibility that wisdom states, higher states of consciousness, involve a pruning at the ‘microtubular’ level, privileging unitive states and nonlocal transpersonal compassion. Then of course, there is the small matter of death – the ‘egress’ – an ultimate reduction in neurocomplexity as the space-time organ of the brain functionally melts, or absorbs, as the tantras would have it. Open minded science theorists, like Stuart Hameroff give it form such as this:
“When the metabolism… is lost, the quantum information leaks out to the space-time geometry in the Universe at large. Being holographic and entangled, it doesn’t dissipate. Hence consciousness (or dream-like sub consciousness) can persist”
(Stuart Hameroff, ‘Quantum Consciousness’, 2007)
Returning then, to our entry point – musing on Apollo, his murder, his partial reconstruction, the god-shaped whole in our collective wisdom-wound – what exactly are we whispering?
Peter Kingsley gets explicit, speaking of the healing cults of Apollo, and the extensive Greek interaction with the East, at that time of the dimming of the Keeper story, the rise of the proto-Breakers :
“What would soon be covered over and rationalized in Greece was preserved and developed in India. What in the West had been an aspect of mystery, of initiation, became classified and formalized in the East. And there the state glimpsed by experienced Greeks – the state that could be called a dream but isn’t an ordinary dream, that’s like being awake but isn’t being awake, that’s like being asleep but isn’t – had its own names. Sometimes it was referred to as the ‘fourth’ turîya. It became better known by the title of samadhî.”
(Peter Kinglsey, ‘In the Dark Places of Wisdom’, 1999)
The missing shamanic god of the Greek founders, those who kept truth and seeded the West as we know it, is of course, Apollo. And how is he to be rehabilitated through us (it is we who need the god, after all, not the other way around)? Not through a wholesale co-opting of the remaining orient, for sure – nor through the commodification of the spirit, the ‘blank idiot’ hawking of McMindfulness on every corporate street-corner; no, my sense is that the way back to this Apollo, the Oulis, healer, who may be our best chance at bringing about the time of Menders, is subtle. It lies in the incubation, if you like – being the seed in the dark soil, breaking apart, keeping the shape, pruning away for the dream of a new fruit. And as we gestate our full term, incubating in the loam, remember Keats’s low-crawling worm daring to wear the laurel crown, the underground goer in the midnight court of the Sun King. Dawn, when it comes, may yet see the green Plutonic shoot stabbing its impossible thrust up through the concrete shield.