Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. – Andre Gide
Slowly I would get to pen and paper, make my poems for others unseen and unborn. – Muriel Rukeyser
I don’t like to say this, but I have to admit that pretty much everything is more complicated than it seems. There are so many ways to look at anything. They are all valid, and perhaps we need them all. As historians we have to be literal, and so we ask, what actually happened? As psychologists we are concerned with relationships (internal or external), so we ask, why did it happen? Could it have happened differently? James Hillman insisted on a polytheistic psychology that can reflect the polytheistic nature of our souls and the fact that we are all multiple personalities. So as mythologists we ask where am I – right now – in this story that constantly repeats itself? What part of it – what specific image – is roiling my emotions right now?
Do we admire Franz Jägerstätter’s self-sacrifice? Depending on our perspective – that is to say, depending perhaps on the emotional issues that drive us – we may well observe that he was sacrificing more – much more – than his own life, and we will react accordingly. Regardless, if we pay attention to how our own souls move, we realize that A Hidden Life, like any great work of art, has thrown us into an emotional turmoil that can only be resolved not with answers but with more questions.
Questions like: Who am I? By what circles of relationship do I define myself? What would I do for a cause, for an abstract ideal? For what reason – or which people – would I lay down my own life? For what cause or which people would I step into the fire of sacrifice, aware that my act might well be an utter waste? Do I have any faith that such an act might well have impact on others unknown and even unborn?
Or: What part of my own consciousness, what belief systems, what identity have I yet to sacrifice in order to die into a greater self, the self that my ancestors have been waiting for me to manifest? Why exactly have I entered this world? What unperformed sacrifices would I regret if I were to die today?
We are right where we need to be – in the realm of profound mysteries, where as physicist Niels Bohr wrote,
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
As I mentioned above, no member of any of the thousands of indigenous religious systems that existed prior to the advent of monotheism could ever support this willingness to sacrifice one’s body for an idea – to literally, physically die. Of course, I can’t prove such a statement, but everything I’ve ever read or learned from living representatives of such cultures reinforces it. And here is another level of mystery: much of these oldest wisdom in the world coincides with the 20th-century insights of Archetypal Psychology. I remember a scene at a men’s conference about 25 years ago. Malidoma Somé spoke at length about the traditions of his Dagara people, especially in terms of the symbolic death of the childlike or heroic ego that is necessary during initiation. When he finished, Hillman rose to say, “This is exactly what I have been trying to say for years!”
In these times when this beautiful world is in such terrible danger, we all need to grow – to remember what we all once knew – the capacity to think mythologically. Then, as I write in Chapter One of my book,
…We perceive meaning on several levels simultaneously, aware that the literal, psychological and symbolic dimensions of reality complement and interpenetrate each other to make a greater whole…There is no reason to assume that indigenous people cannot do this. Actually, it is we who have, by and large, lost this capacity. The curses of modernity – alienation, environmental collapse, totalitarianism, consumerism, addiction and world war – are the results…
For tribal people, to explain is not a matter of presenting literal facts, but to tell a story, which is judged, writes David Abram, by “whether it makes sense… to enliven the senses” to multiple levels of meaning…and myth is truth precisely because it refuses to reduce the world to one single perspective.
So in a sense we are back where we started. Of course, self-sacrifice amounts to nothing more than suicide – on one level.
And again, we must take note of the synchronicities. I mentioned above that the Gestapo executed Otto and Elise Hampel on April 4th, 1943 (another source says they died on the 8th). That same week, Franz was nearby, in another Berlin prison. On the 2nd of the month, Bulgaria informed the Germans that its 25,000 Jews would not be turned over to German control. On the 5th, the Gestapo arrested war resister and Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (he was executed shortly before the end of the war). On the 9th, the S.S. murdered 2,300 Jews in the Ukrainian Ghetto of Zbrow.
Fred Korematsu’s court appeal was pending. In Budapest, Oskar Schindler was in contact with the Jewish resistance. On the 17th, Hungary refused (temporarily, it turned out) to deliver its 800,000 Jews to the Germans. On the 19th, the Gestapo executed fourteen Germans associated with the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance (in February they had showered the atrium of Munich University with anti-Nazi leaflets). On the same day, the Belgian resistance liberated 233 Jews from an Auschwitz-bound train. On the 19th, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto began their famous uprising.
Were the sacrificial acts of the Hampels and Franz Jägerstätter emblematic of a great turning point in the war? Is it possible that their deaths did not occur in a moral vacuum? Speaking of turning points, biochemist Albert Hofmann accidentally ingested LSD for the first time on April 16th, 1943.
This quote from George Elliot appears in the last frame of A Hidden Life:
…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.