Barry’s Blog # 33: The Predator

Psychologist, author (“Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World”) and ritual leader ( Francis Weller has evolved a very useful psychological concept: the Predator.

The Predator is an innate, internal, perhaps archetypal part of each one of us that means us no good. It wants us to fail, setting impossibly high standards and then shaming us for not attaining them. Indeed, its message is that we never deserved peace or fulfillment, that the world is not interested in any gifts we might offer to it. In theological terms, it is pure evil; mythologically, it could be imagined as the giant, the witch, or perhaps asCronos, the father-god who ate his children.

This idea has further value for us. Recently, at the end of a men’s conference, Francis advised us to stay in contact with each other so as to anchor our hard-earned insights in our bodies and in our communities. He suggested that the Predator will quickly try to make us forget our connections to neglected parts of ourselves, to our friends and to our ancestors. He said that the Predator “wants to cull you from the herd.”

The biological image evoking African leopards waiting in the dark to grab a young or sickly animal from the periphery of its community moves this idea of the Predator into a much deeper conversation about American mythology.

One of James Hillman’s most provocative arguments was that the first assumption of the “therapeutic culture” is that emotional maturity entails a progressive differentiation of self from others, especially family. Most psychology is “Ego Psychology” – we grow and “individuate” by separating ourselves from others, very often from the physical places were we were born. In this way of thinking, family and community, as much as we desire their benefits, represent all that we must separate from in order to become who we truly are meant to be.

So it may be surprising to realize thatAmerican psychology mirrors its economics: the heroic, isolated ego in a hostile world. In this libertarian and narcissistic vision, others – all others – exist for the sole purpose of either fulfilling our needs or sabotaging them. And growth? The only place in nature where unlimited growth occurs is in the cancer cell.

But the idea of “culling us from the herd” takes us out of this brutal, apocalyptic, American “Survivor” mode and reminds us that throughout the ancient, tribal, indigenous worlds – everywhere, indeed, except for our post-modern culture – people universally assumed that we are primarily social animals.  We know who we are and we are healed only in community, only in the context of our relationships with each other, with the natural world that surrounds us, and with the still wider world of ancestors and spirits.

We have been born into community because that community needs us. It needs the unique gifts that only we can offer, and we can only bring it forth when authentic community welcomes us. We belong in the herd.

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