The earlier essays, “Flatland” and “Marginality”, virtually demand this present one to complete a trilogy on the topic of soul. They were written almost simultaneously, taking various perspectives toward the concept of soul, but ultimately seeking its definition in what is seen to be a restoration of the concept in the Western psyche, and which this present essay seeks to complete.
In summary, Flatland explores the modern position with respect to loss of depth. Terms such as myth and imagination are defined and explored to illustrate how avenues that may lead us to depth have been trivialised and “flattened” in modern culture to effectively deny such access. This process has been initiated and enhanced by providing alternative meanings to these definitions, which effectively define them by their oppositional characteristics.
Such an orientation may serve a satirical approach, as long as these oppositional positions remain in relationship to the original. But in our dualistic and divisive culture the opposite of each original and primarily authentic meaning has been rendered absolute, thus reinforcing flatland and the forces there – religious, political, social – that may gain from this mechanism, as well as denying the seeker pathways into depth, the absolute, and even the divine.
This has left the individual in an existential void, where lack of meaning, aloneness and death dominate as fears. A further rider to this is that the so-called disciplines of healing – medicine, psychiatry, and psychology – have been similarly appropriated and institutionalised. Where is the individual to turn?
Marginality furthers the attempts of redefinition explored in Flatland and gives them a shape and context: What it would be like to adopt the attitudes of a practitioner of depth; what are the characteristics, and where would he position himself. The conclusion could well be that the person centred in flatland is egocentric, governed by fear, yet out of touch with depth and hence meaning in the existential sense, and the healing that would come with such contact. The liminal position is at the margins, not because egocentricity is denied, but because it has been gone beyond in the psychological sense. In fact egocentricity is seen from a developmental perspective as a prerequisite to a stable position in liminality; although stability itself would seem a paradoxical way of describing this position, because it may be experienced and feel far from it!
This thesis is reinforced by a brief look at some disciplines, medicine and physics in particular, which may have to or are negotiating these issues. The generalisation is made that all disciplines that extend beyond flatland meet, at a collective level, the characteristics of murkiness, confusion, chaos, enigma and paradox that the individual practitioner does. Some reference is made to the spiritual realms beyond, which the practitioner of the liminal has the tools to face and mediate, whereas those confined to flatland and egocentricity cannot. An irony is that these selfsame flat-liners need the practitioners of marginality for the rejuvenation of the culture in which they are embedded, not themselves daring to risk the fears of death and insanity that lie there.
In characteristically enigmatic fashion this latter essay is left with the nature and force of love in this whole process. Maybe this then is the starting point with the current essay, which fervently believes that the restoration of the concept of soul is both a vital necessity in the West and maybe across the globe, and also may be considered somewhat synonymous with the definition and characteristics of the liminal practitioner described in Marginality.
One term that could have been selected for earlier definition is eros, the erotic or eroticism, as it also provides a bridge into the discussion of love. However, it was felt it would make a more satisfactory introduction to this essay, as well as continuing to shape it.
So, let us start with some definitions:
1 Greek Mythology the god of love, son of Aphrodite. Roman equivalent Cupid.
- sexual love or desire.
- (in Freudian theory) the life instinct. Often contrasted with Thanatos.
- (in Jungian psychology) the principle of personal relatedness in human activities, associated with the anima. Often contrasted with Logos.
At least the psychoanalytic approaches extend eros beyond the limited and restrictive “sexual love or desire”, which, as we will see, is a distinct “flattening” of the deeper meaning and much in the manner of and similar to the other definitions explored in Flatland. However, these psychoanalytic avenues, although of great interest in themselves, will not be pursued here. Suffice it to say that Freud’s Thanatos is the Greek death, introducing the existential position, and Jung’s Logos is the divine principle or facets of it. (As an aside, how has Logos been flattened into logic?)
Some further definitions:
of, relating to, or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement.
Again, the restriction to the physical, instinctual and primal emotional.
the quality or character of being erotic : a disturbing blend of violence and eroticism.
- sexual desire or excitement.
To date the examples given here in these New Oxford American Definitions have excluded the examples given in the original (in italics), but left in this one for varied reasons. It would be pleasant to discover that the connection with “violence” is related to the “Thanatos”, or death instinct, of the previously defined Eros; but I think not. And again we have the “sexual desire or excitement”… these definitions are starting to become rather circular, and a foray into other words that begin with “ero…” in the same dictionary reinforce that perception, such that their inclusion here would be tiresome and only serve to reinforce flatland… and its ennui.
So we may have to employ another tack to get beyond this restrictive, stultifying and flattening process: let’s begin with the Greek god Eros of the first definition above.
Almost as an aside, but a point to which we will return, is the inclusion in the definition of “the god of love” in Greek mythology above. In the myth the god Eros is the daughter of Aphrodite (beauty, fertility, and sexual love), who is drawn by forces beyond him into contact with the mortal female Psyche. The result of this encounter is, after many dangerous interludes, their union and the deification of Psyche. Of further interest is that Psyche means “soul” and the myth equates this with the feminine; by contrast “love” is masculine and – originally – of a higher order. Taken literally, the soul when it/she encounters love becomes immortal and, according to Greek mythology, this is the destiny of the soul, who must transcend her flatland existence to achieve this. The daughter of the union of Eros and Psyche is Voluptas, or pleasure, giving a different and potentially deeper perspective to “sexual desire”. In this perspective it is obvious the soul has a marginal or liminal position.
We would do well to give a little further definition to love. In modern times it would be beyond the capacity of most to get a paragraph, let alone a page, on this topic. Greek literature is replete with it and the philosopher, Plato, even managed a book – the Symposium – on the topic of love and its nuances.
There are several intersecting avenues that could be taken to give differentiation to love and its various facets. I will begin with a map from the perennial philosophy, which resonates deeply with psychology and physiology, where the body progresses through the body, instincts, emotions and mind to the world of spirit. There are, of course, many variations on this theme, but this one will suffice for the exploration of love.
At the instinctual level love is the sex drive itself, resulting in release of physical tension and maybe procreation: it is also related to and interconnected with the other instincts of nurturing, aggression, and passivity, with creativity a posited fifth. At this level, when emotion enters, there is more the experience of the drive with desire, excitement, and an outcome of pleasure – even if only primal in nature. This is the love of sexual attraction, maturing through the so-called “chemistry” phase to romantic love and its exclusivity. It may be at this level that a conscious experience of love begins to flower, although the exclusivity and boundaries that commonly encase it, indicate that it is not integrated and somewhat illusory. The psychologists, particularly of a Jungian persuasion, would see this as an encounter with the gender opposite within oneself, but projected onto the other.
It is at this stage that maybe features that are more truly erotic are glimpsed, as portrayed in the myth in the initial encounters between Eros and Psyche. Then the trials begin, which initiate perhaps most importantly the issue of betrayal; an essential ingredient to the maturation of love beyond its instinctual, emotional, projective, and early erotic phases. At this stage Psyche is in a liminal position, betwixt and between. She faces death, isolation, and a lack of direction – all features of an existential crisis. Once these and the attendant betrayals are faced and integrated, the love matures into a truly erotic one and Psyche – soul – is deified (becomes immortal).
Yet there is a further stage, where love becomes transcendent, as in the Christian agape and described in the mystically erotic literature of all cultures (including our own in the Gnostic tradition), then sex itself is transcended. Yet love is immanently present in the god Eros, waiting to fire his arrow into the next – willing – victim (the pun here on victim is of the deeper meaning of sacrifice).
As the journey up the chains of the ladder of the perennial philosophy are explored, experienced and integrated, the soul moves on. Whilst the beginnings of the journey are instinctual and sexual, the outcome is spiritual and transcends sex (although this does not preclude engaging in sexuality, a fallacy often promoted). But it is a mistake to equate eroticism with sexuality per se and particularly as excitement or desire. It is seen to emerge higher up the path, but necessitates the engagement of the lower levels to achieve this. What this means is that once the erotic level of love is engaged and the previous levels integrated, then eros becomes a principle and can operate with energy, passion, and excitement, but need not engage in sexuality itself unless the situation so dictates.
That the soul is intimately involved in this process is fundamental and axiomatic. The task of the individual in flatland is to see the challenges of sexuality as the progress of the soul in its ascent to the world of spirit and immortality. The myth indicates it/she does this by increasingly relativising the holds of flatland and adopting a marginal position and a liminal existence. In so doing many challenges of a “psychic” nature occur, including betrayal and the facing of existential fears. From this position, if focussed and dedicated to the task (destiny, karma, wyrd) then connection with the divine reality allows love to permeate and be mediated down into the lower reaches by example and presence. This has been the path of many a mystic and magician in history.