Part Six: Mythological Speculations
What the hell is going on? One thing is clear: conventional political analysis can take us only so far. We need to think mythologically.
Vera de Chalambert articulates some popular mythopoetic thinking. In August, 2015, well before Trump’s ascension, artists had projected the image of Kali – the Dark Mother, Hindu “goddess of spiritual death, destruction and resurrection” – onto the Empire State Building, “New York’s brightest and most recognizable symbol and capitalism’s earliest totem…”
“If you are not heartbroken, you are not paying attention!” this project seems to scream from its illustrious rooftop…Fierce protectress of truth, she tells it like it is, she beckons us to dive into the dark, to face the stark reality of the global ecological crisis upon us, and to let heartbreak be the ground from which we awaken and serve…In our bones we all recognize, we are in the death pangs of the old world, and that we make it through is anything but certain…what is needed now is the fierceness of Ma Kali. A holy oracle of change, her medicine is darkness, her initiation is by fire — she calls upon us to rise from our own ashes, to speak truth to power, take on all our shadows and take up the arms that we have, our own, to hold, serve and protect all life as we would our own child…I think that this moment gives us an opportunity for reckoning only if instead of running for the light, we let ourselves go fully into the dark…Receptivity is the great quality of darkness; darkness hosts everything without exception…Climate change is here, whether we believe in it or not. Politically, with the election of Donald Trump, our country and the world have entered a dark night of the soul. We might still live in a culture of shine, greed, glam and white supremacy, but the Dark Feminine has now reemerged into this cycle, and heaven has no fury like the Great Mother scorned.
My colleague Hari Meyers reminds us that one image of Kali is of her dancing on the supine body of the great God Shiva himself. But she does not mean to destroy him, only to awaken him. The frightening scene is meant to awaken us, to resurrect our higher consciousness. “Sometimes,” says Hari, “you cannot awaken from a dream until it turns into a nightmare.”
De Chalambert’s article went viral. Astrologer Safron Rossi’s reaction was typical: “What moved me with de Chalambert’s piece was her validation of the falling apart many of us feel and placing it in a much larger and meaningful frame.”
I applaud her insights. But we need to go deeper. This is not the first time that someone, moved by a great disaster, suggested that Kali was speaking to the world. After 9/11/2001, some writers suggested that the attacks on the twin towers were a “wake-up call from the Dark Feminine.” But as I wrote in 2009 in Chapter Nine of my book,
The Dark Mother, however, had already been calling on September 10th, when 35,000 children died of malnutrition, as they do every day. With all due respect to the victims of the attack, it is characteristic American narcissism to imply that 9/11 had more personal meaning than the carnage going on in any of the forty-odd wars being waged across the globe.
Eight years later, it seems plain to me that it is also characteristic American innocence to have been in denial for so long. The Great Mother has always been crying for our attention.
Perhaps there are other mythic motifs that can help. One is Pandora’s box. In Greek myth, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora, the first woman, “the all-gifted”, to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a box (actually a jar) containing death and many other evils which were then released into the world. She hastened to close the container, but the whole contents had escaped except for one thing that lay at the bottom – hope.
It’s a useful metaphor. Mark Potok, previously quoted, says, “I think what has happened is that the Trump campaign, in many ways, has kind of ripped the lid off Pandora’s Box, and all of these different kinds of hatreds have escaped, and it’s pretty damn near impossible to get them back into the box.”
Michael Meade also uses the image: “Trump has now opened a Pandora’s Box of personal and political problems that have become a national fiasco and a growing international dilemma.”
It’s all now out of the box, like an explosion of gases from the belly of a bloated, rotting whale, and we really don’t know if hope remains inside.
I’m rummaging through world mythology because perhaps we need as many images as possible now. Another one is the Tower.
It had obvious relevance in 2001, and now with Kali’s image on the Empire State Building and Trump’s association with towers, it maintains that imaginal significance. I wrote about it in Chapter Nine:
Many mythologies share the theme of cataclysm (“wash down”) or catastrophe (“turn down”) and tell of disasters such as earthquakes, floods and eruptions. The Judeo-Christian tradition perceives such events as divine punishment resulting from sexual transgressions and reversions to Paganism. The Greeks saw these events as retribution (nemesis) for excessive arrogance and pride (hubris), which is symbolized as towers that reach toward heaven in Egyptian, Mexican, Assamese, Burmese and Native American myths.
The Tower card appears in the European Tarot Deck as a medieval castle, a Babylonian ziggurat, a skyscraper, a prison — or the White House. It collapses in flames from an earthquake or lightning bolt. Sometimes human bodies fall from it, or pieces of it strike the king. Psychologically, it represents the ego defenses that hide our incomplete selves. The Tower, writes Shanti Fader, is a place of “fear and jealous, possessive pride, designed to keep out love…” Recall Pentheus (in The Bacchae) bellowing, “I shall order every gate in every tower to be bolted tight.”…It also represents knowledge swollen out of control, like the Tower of Babel.
Feder sees the Tarot’s destruction of the Tower as “clearing away…outmoded ideas and patterns…which may well have served a purpose at one time.” The Tower is like the Hero, who produces and achieves in the first half of life, but must die into something greater in the second half. Dionysus concludes The Bacchae implying that if uninitiated boy-kings awaken, they might “have an ally…in the son of Zeus.”
Next: Two more mythic images.