Cerberus: Guard Dog from Hell
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Cerberus: Guard Dog from Hell
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Hesiod tells of a goddess named Echidna, “the serpent”, a daughter of the “Old Ones of the Sea”, Phorkys and Keto. She was born in a cave, half beautiful-cheeked, bright-eyed woman, half terrible huge snake, thrashing about in the hollows of the earth and devouring her victims raw. The immortals assigned her a dwelling place beneath a rock far from gods and men, in a place called Arima, also called “the couch of Typhoeus”, her husband.
Her husband, the dragon Typhoeus, or Typhon, was the youngest, strongest, and most colossal of all Gaia’s children, born after Zeus’s conquest of the Titans. Above the hips he was shaped like a man, and was so tall that he overtopped the highest mountain and his head often knocked against the stars. One of his arms extended to the sunset and the other to the sunrise. From his shoulders grew a hundred heads of serpents, sometimes baying like a dog, or making the mountains echo with their hiss. From the hips downwards he was shaped like two wrestling serpents, which towered up to the height of his head and screamed hissingly. His entire body was covered with wings and from his mouth spurted flames instead of spittle.
In the darkness of the caves at Arima, many monsters were born to these two creatures, and among them was the terrible hound Cerberus.
Cerberus is said in later accounts to be a ferocious hound with three heads, three gaping growling jaws with frightful teeth, and drool that, upon touching the earth, sprouts the poisonous wolf-bane herb (aconite). Earlier descriptions by Hesiod reveal that the lower half of his body was that of a serpent, like his mother, that many venomous serpents heads sprout from his back and that he has in fact, fifty growling and baying heads.
Cerberus is famous as the archetypal hell hound, guard dog to the Underworld, guardian of his beloved master Hades and of Persephone, Queen of the Dead. The dead he welcomes with the warmth and innocence of a friendly and trusting pet, but he shows no mercy, and devours immediately any that try to escape the Underworld without his master’s consent. Likewise, the living are usually frightened away from the realms of the dead by this foul beast, though there are cases where some have been literally frightened to death at the sight of him, others consumed by lingering and violent madness. (see Tales of Dr. Taverner by Dion Fortune for a dramatic example.) The only creatures known to regularly pass Cerberus without confrontation are Hermes and Iris (an aspect of the goddess Hekate), the two known guides of the Underworld.
One of the twelve heroic acts of Hercules was to overpower Cerberus without the use of weapons and carry him out into the open world, having first obtained permission from Hades. In this tale we see how even the archetypal hero had to use all his strength of character and sheer “guts” to bring this horrible creature out into the open and face it full force in naked daylight. It is interesting to note too, that no sooner did Hercules let him go, than did Cerberus quickly slink back into the bowls of the earth again, to stand his post at the Gates of Death.
In one tale, it is said that Demeter entered the Underworld herself, in search of her abducted daughter, and was able to distract Cerberus by throwing him some drugged cakes, and thus pass un-noticed. Tales tell of others who distracted Cerberus by playing sweet music, which calmed and enchanted the ferocious beast, and so entranced him that he did not notice them slipping past.
It has been our own experience, travelling the Paths, in our first meeting Cerberus at the feet of his masters throne, that Cerberus indeed growled at us menacingly, but his master took charge of us as guests and Cerberus seems to have followed his master’s cue. Remarkably though, after our gaze into the mirror in the hall of death, Cerberus becomes our friendly guide/teacher and leads us to the most beautiful and intimate experience we have in that world! After this, we see the terrible Cerberus running and barking and playing with his master, almost like a puppy, and certainly in love!
How is it that we Initiates of the Mysteries are able to pass Cerberus so easily, even without realizing the danger we face? How is it that Cerberus is transformed for us from a creature capable of driving one to madness and suicide, into a loving companion with a lot to show us and a lot to teach us?
Is really so easy as it seems, or do we have assistance? This astral journey has been carefully and lovingly orchestrated for us by our teacher, who guides us like Hermes through each experience. The astral pathworking also bears the graces of other beings like Sandalphon, Hekate, Charron, Hades, and Persephone, who kindly welcome us and help us through the experience. Perhaps the real-life confrontation with Cerberus is more difficult, because like Hercules, we must ultimately face him alone and without weapons. Perhaps we can find in Iris, the secret to such strength.
STYX: The Threshold of the Underworld
Far distant from the gods lives the Hated Goddess, Styx, in her famous palace beneath a high rock. There the sky is supported by pillars of silver. Iris seldom journeys thither, over the wide plains of the sea. But if dissension and strife break out amongst the immortals, and if some dweller on Olympus takes refuge in a lie, then Zeus sends Iris to fetch the mighty Oath Of The Gods. She fetches it from afar, in a golden goblet, that cold water, known by many names, which gushes down from the high rock. It is the water of Styx. Like all other waters, this water, too, pours beneath the earth, in deep night, from the horn of Okeanos. It’s stream is divided into ten parts. Nine arms encompass the earth and sea: the tenth arm flows from this rock, to the hurt of the gods. For whoever of them perjures himself by this water, he is at once struck down and lies unbreathing a whole year long. He comes no more to the ambrosia and nectar, to the food and drink of the immortals, but remains dumb and aswoon in his abode. After the end of the year, other and heavier punishments await him. For nine years he is banished from the councils and revels of the gods. Only in the tenth year may he again take part in their assemblies.
Beginning with the 32nd Path, we are embarking on a long and difficult journey, exploring the inner realms to understand our true nature, and that of the world around us. It could be said that this path, being the first one we explore, represents the pathworking itself and shows us what will happen in the entire journey ahead.
Entering the 32nd Path is the act of entering the Underworld, of searching within ourselves to know ourselves better, and of searching “behind the scenes” to know the world better.
As a general rule, we may interpret living beings throughout the Paths as aspects of ourselves, and inanimate objects as aspects of our world, or our environment.
In the world around us, there are certain limitations to what people will see or discuss, to what is socially acceptable. This boundary, like the river Styx which surrounds the Underworld, is inevitably defined by what people hate to talk about or address (hate is the meaning of the word “Styx”). Some examples of problems too huge to be comfortable with might be: the threat of AIDS, the nuclear crisis, the ozone layer and global pollution, or better yet, reality-creation theory, or the subjects of suicide, incest, torture, the fates of mutilation victims, deformed births and old people. To this short list we could even add that fact that Russians, drug lords and terrorists, as individuals, are feeling, emotional, living gods on earth, each in their own right, even if they are ignoring huge and painful parts of themselves too. Equally banished across the boundary of acceptability are inexplicable phenomena in our immediate experience. These are phenomena which we, as a culture, deliberately try to convince ourselves and each other that they do not happen, they do not exist. Examples include subjects such as UFO’s, vampires, ghosts, spirits, “extra-terrestrial intelligences”, “Big Foot” and other unidentified intelligent beings on earth besides ourselves… our culture likes to believe it has no peers on the subject of intelligence. A person who crosses the line of any of these uncomfortable subjects (like one who breaks an oath sworn on the Styx) is said to be rough, or coarse, and is often shunned and left alone like the lone ferryman Charron who crosses this boundary continually, who is also described as a rough, coarse being. To take people across the boundary of acceptability into the eerie, the strange and unknown is indeed hard, thankless work most of the time, because people rarely appreciate the uncomfortable situation of being taken to a world, or a view of their world that they do not know how to handle or react to.
If we apply our One Point of View to this situation, the scene at the river’s edge makes a lot of sense. Remember that from the Key Point of View, there is only a dimensionless Point of Awareness, and everything else is the loving companion to that awareness, including our own mind and the entire universe around us. This is a description of our true nature, whole and complete.
Whenever we reject anything in our environment, we are deliberately ignoring part of our world, part of reality. For various reasons which we will explore through the 22 Paths, we have rejected and ignored huge parts of our experience, and some very obvious aspects of ourselves as well. Styx means hate, or rejection. This river of rejection is one of the greatest divisions in our whole world, encircling the underworld and the entire Universe nine times in total, making nine divisions therein. On one hand, these divisions in our world allow for definition, specialization, and concentration of our efforts, allowing for experimentation, study, growth and evolution, much like the successive veils in a mystery religion do. But on the other hand, what we don’t like or can’t handle is off limits to us, even though things may be in reality an intimate part of our immediate experience. In order to reject anything, even for the sake of being able to concentrate, we have to ignore a lot about what we reject, and about ourselves too; we have to “shove it under the carpet”. This is how so much of our world gets buried behind veils of ignoring, or ignorance. Unfortunately, out of sight is also out of mind, and we eventually forget that we are ignoring what we ignore, and we forget that we forgot. Of the rejected universe, the Underworld, all we see is that it’s “weird, stuff that’s off limits”, the stuff we don’t want to talk about, the stuff that makes us uncomfortable for some reason, and the stuff we don’t want anything to do with, even if we really forget why.
If we don’t know we’re really gods on earth, that we are living in Nirvana here and now, if we don’t know how to act like who we really are, it’s because the things we’re forgetting, the things we need to know and do are hidden in the things we ignore and reject, the things we don’t like. The very happiness we all search continually for, the wealth of Hades, is to be found across that hateful river, in the foreboding realms of the Underworld. In this sense, the river Styx is the Abyss… we are only as far from Enlightenment as the width of this river, the distance from those things we reject.
The wraiths at the water’s edge, with no conscious volition of their own (being dead) cannot approach what they automatically fear or hate. This fear and hate is for them a boundary they have no power to overcome and cross. The fear and the hate are deep and swift, cold and dark, and threaten to swallow up and drown anyone who might try to ford or swim in it’s current and undercurrents of violence. Yet everything they want is on the other side, whatever happiness means for each of them, is what they’ve exiled into their Underworld. All they need is to forget their prejudice and recognize that which they reject to be the very object of their desire… all they need do to cross the boundary is to love more strongly than they hate or fear. We, as initiates, have the ability to provide the coins/merit/love that they need so badly, and cannot find for themselves, because love and acceptance are, like a smile, contagious… and the wraiths, with no volition of their own (being dead) are defenceless against such infection, no matter what their prejudice.
We should realise that wraiths could be anyone who is “asleep”, and does not accept reality… after all, where did we get our coins from? Were we “born” with them in our hands, or did someone share his love with us and infect us in this very way…
CERBERUS: The Dweller on the Threshold
“As above, so below” and we have our own personal boundaries of acceptability. There is a line within our minds between what we care to think about and what we’d rather ignore, for whatever reasons. We artificially divide our minds into two unequal parts. There is the smaller “conscious” part comprised of the comfortable and acceptable thoughts, motivations, plans, ideas, memories, attitudes, and perceptions. There is also that vast and mysterious subconscious part of ourselves comprised of everything we don’t want to know about because they make us uncomfortable for various reasons. It may be that we are uncomfortable with something we don’t understand, and therefore do not trust, and would rather ignore whatever makes us worry in this way. There may be painful memories, terribly embarrassing associations, painful or embarrassing mistakes we can’t fix, or problems too huge to do anything about. Examples might be a young child unable to escape cruel parents, or having to watch loved ones tortured or killed, or an insurmountable addiction to alcohol or drugs. There may be more subtle problems that we ourselves create, and push out of our awareness or ignore, such as the inability to face facts about one’s appearance, or facts about one’s personal habits.
At the same time, our own true nature, so vast, complex and incomprehensible, literally mind boggling, is also “shoved under the carpet” like the proverbial “baby thrown out with the bath-water”, because it is, simply mind-boggling.
Cerberus, then, is what we look like when we enforce and defend this artificial separation between the living and the dead, the conscious and unconscious – what we want to know about and what we don’t want to know about.
A description of his parents tells us where and why we first developed this power of discrimination:
Here follows an analysis of the description of Derberus’s Father, Typhoeus:
Myth: “Cerberus’s father…”
English: The seed or need for this quality called Cerberus arises from…
Myth: “… was a Titan, one of Gaia’s sons.”
English: …a primitive aspect of our nature, indeed, of all creation, even space itself.
Myth: “Typhoeus was the biggest and strongest of all of Gaia’s children.”
English: This is the strongest characteristic of the mind…
Myth: “His arms reach through the dark part of the universe, from dusk to dawn…”
English: … the unconscious, or instinctive, automatic and all-pervasive tendency or compulsion to…
Myth: “…His lower body is shaped like two wrestling serpents…”
English: … cling to whatever arises in the mind, considering it as one’s own, and even as oneself, and then even grasping at and wrestling with that idea of a “self,” wrestling with oneself…
Myth: “…and he has a hundred heads sprouting from his shoulders, and his body is covered with wings..”
English: …making the vastness of naked experience simply to much to comprehend all at once with all its myriad ideas and complex principals.
Myth: “Hissing and bellowing, he flung fiery stones at Heaven and from his mouth spurted flames instead of spittle.”
English: This incomprehensibility of all we are, and all we want to keep track of and own, is ugly, unsettling, unproductive, and disruptive, even painful and confusing at times.
Myth: “Zeus subdued him finally by throwing a huge mountain on him, and thus confined him to the Underworld,…”
English: To establish some order in our perception and our lives, we use the stability of physical perception to ignore the huge, unmanageable bulk of our true nature. This is a method of ignoring by shifting attention to a stable physical perception.
Myth: “…but he still sometimes hurls fiery stones and flames from that mountain, which we call today, mount Etna.”
English: Even so, from time to time, we are disturbed by unsettling reminders of the awesome power that lies hidden beneath our artificial face, or surface.
Here follows an analysis of the description of Derberus’s Mother, Echidna:
Myth: “Cerberus’s Mother…”
English: A solution to this problem (represented by the father, Typhoeus) was given birth…
Myth: “… was also a Titan…”
English: …by another automatic function inherent in our primal nature…
Myth: “…daughter of the “Old Ones of the Sea”, Phorkys and Keto.”
English: …the ocean-like vastness and depth of our own minds…”
Myth: “…Her name was Echidna, meaning “serpent”.
English: …seems to engulf, swallow and appropriate whatever it’s aware of, like water pervading, enveloping and dissolving whatever is dropped into it.
Myth: “She is half beautiful woman…”
English: This is the soothing, attractive…
Myth: “…half serpent with a masculine disposition.”
English: …primitive, automatic, reptile-like, though almost intentional, tendency…
Myth: “She lives in a cave far from gods and men…”
English: …to take advantage of the fact that whatever is “out of sight” is also “out of mind”.
Myth: “…and devours her victims raw.”
English: By appropriating and digesting something, making it part of ourselves, we no longer see the thing in our environment. This is a method of ignoring by internalizing. By making something an automatic habit, we need no longer be aware of it, and soon forget about it, even though it is deeply buried in our nature.
The holiest quality of the Universe is it’s infinite curiosity, its Desire for experience, for Love and Life and Light. This curiosity is the Goddess in all of us, it is the true Spirit of Man that shall see us survive through the end of eternity. We are the Universe itself, vast and ineffable, and in order to become conscious of itself, to see itself through its own eyes, we the Universe restrict our view to that of a tiny, specialized creature, living a tiny specialized life on the face of a tiny specialized speck of dust. To satisfy its infinite curiosity and Desire for experience, the Universe does this from countless billions upon billions of very special “Points of View”, from as many “Points of View” as there are points of light in the sky.
Faced with the confusingly infinite possibilities of every instant of existence, we use the qualities of Echidna and Typhon to ignore the most of it so we can concentrate on what we do know, on what we can handle, so we can specialize and deal with the experience of existence carefully one step at a time. “Pain is the Universe Growing” and we have developed ways to reduce the pain to manageable levels in order to survive. This is the secret of the “ring-pass-not” and of the magical axiom: “there is power in restriction”.
Thus, we have developed a three headed watch-dog: selective perception, selective memory, and inhibitions through the union of Echidna and Typhon, two self-serving methods of ignoring, for the sake of maintaining the illusion: for survival. We have developed a convenient and natural tendency to shun that which is disturbing and counter-productive to our comfort, our survival and our growth.
Once we have accomplished this Self-restriction, the Universe “turns about in the seat of consciousness” and starts to look at Itself from each unique angle, and the Universe marvels at the wonder of what It sees with each successive discovery of Itself, in the process of self-discovery, the process we call the third way to travel the Paths: every-day experience.
Or so it goes in a perfect world.
When the Universe, thinking it is a tiny and insignificant, begins to explore itself, becomes self-conscious and sees a little of itself that Reminds it of its own true nature too quickly for comfortable comprehension, when it sees clues that might destroy the whole illusion of being a tiny, insignificant creature, and thus “spoil the fun” and threaten “survival”, we can and do use our ability to ignore the facts, even when they are staring us right in the face. We become experts at guarding the Underworld, keeping the conscious, living things in the daylight of waking life, and keeping the things we don’t want to know about deep underground, out of sight, banished from our concern along with the rest of the universe we can’t quite handle yet.
Every time we wake up in the morning, when we’ve had enough rest and decide to perform the next act in the on-going play of our lives, we have to invoke Cerberus to re-establish the boundary between what we’re going to be aware of, and what we’re not going to be aware of today. We forget much of what went on all night. At first we don’t even remember who we are, having been no-one and everyone for several hours. Then we successively remember and re-establish our “character” like an actor warming up before an appearance, or like the Jackal headed Anubis at the start of every magical operation, proclaiming the magical intention, guarding the confines of the temple, and banishing irrelevant thoughts and spirits.
Cerberus is invoked whenever we sneeze, have an orgasm, faint, or otherwise “pass unconscious”. The fact is, it is impossible to be “unconscious”. “Awareness” is what existence feels like, and as long as Anything exists, that’s how it feels. Since we cannot escape being That which exists, we cannot escape being Aware. What we can do, though, is ignore. So when we say we were “unconscious”, we really mean we are ignoring what we were aware of, and even ignoring that we were perfectly aware the whole time.
When we do this, we are lying, just as we lie every time we deliberately act in ignorance. We have a quality in our nature, a basic part of our make-up that allows us to exist as we are, that lies continually about what we see, what we think and do, and what we are.
The interesting thing is that this quality of our basic make-up has to be aware of both sides of the fence… it has to know “this is something we don’t want out in the open” and “this other thing is something we don’t want meddling with taboo”. This aspect of our own minds therefore knows all the secrets we hide from ourselves, from the awesome vastness of our heritage as the Universe itself, to the dirtiest little “skeletons in the closet”. It is no surprise then, to find that “Cerberus” translates as Guard the Secret”.
The act of such ignoring and secret-keeping is not a simple one. To keep a secret from ourselves, we can’t be aware of keeping the secret, can we? The keeper of secrets must then itself be a secret. The guardian of the Underworld must himself be banished to the Underworld. He must operate independently of our conscious awareness, like a servant, but because he is an integral part of our own mind, he will by nature be as loyal as a pet dog, anticipating his master’s every wish, watching his master for clues as to “friend” or “foe”, “attack” or “welcome”. He has to do his job alone, automatically, like the primitive, automatic, involuntary, reptilian part of our brain. Without his master’s direct “conscious” command he has to swallow up what we don’t want to think about, and scare us away from approaching secret things we don’t want to know or think about. Because he only has the primitive, automatic, involuntary, reptilian part of our brain to work with, it might seem as though he were a cross between a dog and a reptile or serpent.
To make things worse, our faithful guard dog has to watch with intelligence and deliberation, simultaneously, what we see outside, what we think inside, and what we do about it. He has to know the truth and the lies on each of these three fronts, and simultaneously censor all three of them, almost as though he were required to have three independent heads at once.
When the Universe, thinking it is tiny and insignificant, has forgotten it’s reason for forgetting (to make the show convincing to itself) it has also forgotten the facts and the values and the implications that go with who it really is and the nature of this reality. The facts and values we forget are that everyone and everything around us is really a reflection of ourselves, and that when something happens to someone else, it is really happening to ourselves.
Not knowing who we really are, we make “mistakes”, and we hurt other people, and we hurt ourselves. Sometimes we can’t face the pain we have caused or have seen in someone else, because it hints of how close we really are to that person. The powerful sympathy that naturally arises for someone’s pain can be so intense, and so intimate that it rivals sex as an experience of unity. When such strong feelings of unity threaten our confidence as individuals, threaten our illusion of being a whole and complete entity in ourselves, we feel like our survival as individuals is also threatened. We react to this breach of individuality as though it were a threat to our survival and our loving Cerberus tries his best to ease our anguish and swallow up any reminders of the incident, and tries to frighten us away from thinking about it, doing anything about it, or even remembering it even happened. Sometimes Cerberus can be so clever as to remove the pain from the act of hurting someone while we perform the act itself! It is possible for us to hurt someone and ignore the fact even while we do it, and it’s remarkable how like an enraged dog people act when this happens… any hint of weakness or fear in the victim, any reminder of the pain and suffering one is causing evokes more rage to try to drown it out with. It’s like a rapist seeing the suffering he is causing, naturally feels terrible about her suffering, and responds with, “You Bitch! You make me feel like a terrible creep! How dare you make me feel so horrible! I’m going to kill you for making me feel so badly!”
As mentioned before, There may be problems in our lives that we ourselves create, and push out of our awareness or ignore, such as the inability to face facts about one’s appearance, or facts about one’s personal habits. When someone (a lover or a teacher) loves us very much, and cares for us enough to try to help with these aspects of ourselves that we don’t know how to handle, and don’t want to deal with, like Cerberus we turn on them with growls and venom and hate and threats. We end up severely hurting the ones that love us most, the ones that are closest to our hearts.
The whole situation gets messy as more and more of our lives are ignored, the lies we tell ourselves get more and more complex, self-contradictory, and more difficult to carry. Whenever we suppress something of importance, it doesn’t really go away… you can’t say something doesn’t exist just because you’re not aware of it, and you can’t say you don’t feel a certain way just because you don’t want to admit it or think about it, and you can’t say you don’t do something just because you don’t want to admit it… it’s there all the time nonetheless. Now when you deny something that’s important to you, something about which there are constant reminders to be “swallowed”, to keep up appearances, we have to act like the reminders aren’t really there either. We become neurotic, trying to continually deny that we know something is there, and start to act strangely, in ways that don’t make sense. These neuroses, these on-going lies each become a burden of on-going automatic maintenance. It’s as though Cerberus sprouts a serpent head on his back for each neurotic behaviour pattern he must carry, and eventually the burden is heavy on his back. The serpent heads, each chattering their own lies, greedily vying for more attention, sometimes contradicting each other and fighting among each other, become something too loud to ignore, too heavy to bear. It’s no wonder we need to take a rest from trying to be who we think we are… the burden is heavy and we need our sleep.
It’s at this point where we become aware that there’s a lot more to reality than we think, and we start to wonder just what the truth is. The louder the mental chatter of serpents jealously proclaiming their own version of the truth, the less inner peace we have… the more tiring the whole game is, the more we wonder what the truth really is. At this point, we are like Persephone in the oldest version of her myth, where she lives in a dark cave all her life, unaware of the vastness of the world around her, spending her time spinning wool. Eventually she spins so much wool that she gets all tangled up in it, and her whole world is caught up in this tiny part of the cave, with it’s own tiny drama of problems and solutions, but all bound up in the mess of wool she herself has spun. She knows nothing of a “normal” life in the bright outside world around her, and she knows nothing of love, being a virgin, and want’s nothing to do with it either, being incomprehensible to her. Out of love and concern for her poor “spinster” daughter, knowing the fullness of life she is missing, Demeter approaches a great and powerful god, Zeus of the Underworld, with whom she knows Persephone has a lot in common and whom she knows Persephone will respect and eventually love. She arranges to have him come to the cave and carry her off to be his wife. Of course, to Persephone, this is kidnap and rape, but eventually, she loosens up, breaks out of her narrow view and finds love and power through him.
It’s at this point where We’ve fooled Ourselves too well, and the lies and self-deception begin to harm Us and Others instead of concentrate Us for growth. It’s at this point where the restriction must be broken, and We must now explore Our true nature from this imaginary “View-Point” that has taken Us so long to create. The illusion is as “real” as it can get.
Now it takes courage and “guts” to bring Cerberus out into the open and expose the lies and fact him and befriend him, not to be afraid of him. But all he can do is try to frighten you from the things you are hiding (from), he won’t harm you because, after all, he is your servant, and you are his master… he loves you and this is the only reason he does his job… he loves you because he is indeed part of you.
The secret to “Facing the Dweller On the Threshold”, Cerberus, is in the Key to the Path… in that constant Awareness which is your true nature, unshakeable like a mountain, illuminating enlightening like the Iris in your Eye. By resting there, as that One Point of View, you are no longer an insignificant human to be scared away from the underworld with threats of madness and suicide… you are the King of the Underworld, Hades himself, and you have the powers of Iris to pass Cerberus without fear… after all, who is he going to frighten? That Point of Awareness? And with what? What is threatening to something as automatic and indestructible as Existence itself?
CERBERUS THE DOG: “Man’s Best Friend”
If you look at Cerberus without fear, what do you see” A faithful servant and pet, who knows all the secrets there are to know about you, and who loves you anyway, and who only ever wanted to protect you from fear and pain. The secrets he keeps from you out of love are only kept so because he senses your discomfort and wants you to be happy. But if you have the courage and the peace of mind to face the facts, found only in that One Point of View, and you are not afraid of the secrets Cerberus keeps, then he can be the most knowledgeable guide to your inner secret self that you can find. And after being left alone to do his job in the Underworld for so long, faithfully doing his duty out of love for you, he would dance and bark and run like a puppy at the opportunity to play with you and be your friend. With all his aeons of experience with illusions and secrets, the possibilities for games of hide-and-seek, games of surprise, wit and hidden meanings with such a creature could be some of the most amusing and rewarding pastimes in your life. At the same time he has the power to keep us from ever confusing illusion with reality again, like Hekate, the White Bitch who became Persephone’s constant companion and guardian after she returned from the depths of the Underworld as it’s Queen.
It is for these reasons that when we first meet Cerberus in the 32nd Path, he is quite threatening, first held in check by his master as we are his guests, then later he is unleashed and we have to face him alone. It is also for these reasons that the key to getting past Cerberus is to hold your fear in check, for as with most guard dogs, the slightest act of fear or anger enrages the beast. Then, when Cerberus is sure you are not a threat, that you are willing to accept what he has to show you, when he is sure that you “Wish to Know In Order to Serve”, and that you are “Willing to Suffer In Order To Learn”, he becomes your guide. When you are willing to look in the mirror and face yourself completely without acting out of fear for all the aspects of yourself, all the way from the view of the petty, ugly little secrets you may keep from yourself and others, to the view of your true heritage as a conscious incarnation of the Universe itself, then you become the Lord and Master of the Underworld yourself. Perhaps you are like Persephone, at first horrified by the awesome display of what you see, at being wrenched from your comfortable, small, and predictable life, but later released on the infinite shores of your Cosmic Nature, embraced in the arms of your eternal loving companion: the play of life and death.
All this is fine in beautiful journeys in our psychic imagination, but in the real world we have to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves, and we have to go to our own underworld often, befriend our own personal Cerberus and teach him to swallow our pride and our fear instead of the truth. We have to learn all he has to teach about ourselves, saying to ourselves: whenever there’s something scary, or uncomfortable to think about, or something we hate; that’s one of Cerberus’s secrets, that’s one of Cerberus’s lessons, and that’s something we need very much to learn about, and learn from… it’s one of those things we’ve split off from ourselves, the infinite beings that we really are, and one of the things we need to get back, to know who we are, and act like we are whole and infinite still. In this sense, we need to develop the strength of character and “guts” of Hercules to be able to face those most terrifying, embarrassing, disillusioning, disheartening, hope-shattering things, as well as the awesomely beautiful, frighteningly wonderful, and unbearably precious things about ourselves. In this sense, we need to develop strength of character if we are really to know and understand and love ourselves and each other the way we really are — which is the whole point to path-working in the first place. It will take all of the qualities, and lessons, and strength we build in the other 21 paths to do this. We shall meet the “Dweller on the Threshold” at least two more times before we have travelled all these paths, and like the Goddess in her journey to the centre of the Universe, six more “guardians” will demand that we strip off our pride and our pre-conceptions before we arrive truly naked in that holy place, between the worlds of men, and the realms of the Dread Lords of the Outer Spaces.
Man, Know Thyself!
Truly, if this is our charge, then Cerberus is indeed Man’s best friend.
For further, more detailed reading on the subjects of Cerberus and Styx, an excellent book, has been suggested, though out of print for many years, entitled: “Vital Lies, Simple Truths; The psychology of Self-Deception” (c) 1985, by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., from Simon & Schuster Inc. of New York.
This book offers a layman in the field of psychology, an in-depth study of how and why we hide things from ourselves, both in a personal sense and as a society. It covers ground all the way from chemical interactions in the “reptilian” part of our brain (examining the serpent tale of Cerberus), through “blind-spots” we create in our perception, and how they shape our character and our lives, to a description of how we collectively “create reality” by extensions of the same principals (we determine the course of the river Styx, and the shape of our world thereby).
In Traditional Wicca, we are taught that the whole point to all of the practices, studies and meditations involved in the never-ending First Degree Work ultimately reduce to one purpose, or are dedicated to the service of this one purpose: Self-Knowledge, through the command of the Goddess: “Man, Know Thyself!”. This book therefore is very precious teaching to any traditional witch of the First Degree and beyond.
This book, incidentally, is dedicated to TARA, a goddess of Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra, noted for offering the swiftest path to enlightenment, protection from all types of mental torment, and to whom Dr. Goleman pays homage by including her mantra on the dedication page.
The following pages are a reproduction of the introduction to this book.
[notes that appear italicized and in braces like this are my own comments. Below, are two X’s, which were large black dot’s in the original printing, spaced about 5 or 6 inches from each other]
My topic is hard to explain to you, although it is something with which we are all intimately familiar. The difficulty is that we have no precise words for it. That very fact is, in part, why it intrigues me so: there are, it seems, vital parts of our lives which are, in a sense, missing — blanks in experience hidden by holes in vocabulary. That we do not experience them is a fact which we know only vaguely, if at all.
Those blanks in experience are my topic.
Our failure to experience these aspects of our lives appears due to causes deep within our consciousness. It results in an incapacity to bring attention to bear on certain crucial aspects of our reality, leaving a gap in that beam of awareness which defines our world from moment to moment.
My subject is, then, how we notice and how we do not notice.
In other words, a piece missing from awareness. A hole in attention. A lacuna.
The blind spot is an apt physiological metaphor for our failure to see things as they are in actuality. In physiology, the blind spot is the gap in our field of vision that results from the architecture of the eye.
At the back of each eyeball is a point where the optic nerve, which runs to the brain, attaches to the retina. This point lacks the cells that line the rest of the retina to register the light that comes through the lens of the eye. As a result, at this one point in vision there is a gap in the information transmitted to the brain. The blind spot registers nothing.
Ordinarily what is missed by the one eye is compensated for by overlapping vision in the other. Thus ordinarily we do not notice our blind spots. But when one eye is closed, the blind spot emerges. To see your blind spot, close your left eye and hold this page at arm’s length with your right hand while focusing on the cross. Very slowly, move the page toward you and back again. Somewhere between ten and fifteen inches away the circle will seem to disappear.
It is Instructive to see one’s blind spot: it offers a concrete instance of a far more subtle, psychological parallel.
Let me give you some examples, drawn from various realms of life. They all suggest the pattern I mean to get at.
Take the case of a woman in therapy who recalls having heard, as a child of five, her mother crying at night. The memory comes as a surprise to the woman, it does not fit at all with her conscious memories of that period of her life, just after her father had moved out. While the girl’s mother made long calls to the father pleading with him to come back, in the girl’s presence she portrayed her feelings very differently: The mother denied missing her husband and put on a carefree and unconcerned air. After all, they were happy, weren’t they?
The daughter understood that her mother’s sadness was not to be mentioned. Since the mother needed to conceal these feelings, her daughter too was to deny them. The daughter repeatedly heard a version of the divorce that fit the image the mother wanted to convey; the story became an established fact in the daughter’s [conscious] memory. The more frightening memories of her mother crying at night faded from [conscious] memory, not to be retrieved until many years later, in psychoanalysis. [An artificial division is built: what is consciously remembered, and what is unconsciously remembered, and the two do not agree, the one being to uncomfortable to admit.]
The theme of the devastating impact such buried secrets have is so familiar in literature that it suggests the universality of the experience. The story of Oedipus revolves around the device, as do Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier and several of Ibsen’s plays. Indeed, Ibsen called this sort of secret a “vital lie,” the family myth that stands in place of a less comfortable truth.
Such vital lies are not all that uncommon. For example, a psychiatrist reports having overheard a woman who, at a dinner party, remarked:
I am very close to my family. They were always very demonstrative and loving. When I disagreed with my mother she threw whatever was nearest at hand at me. Once it happened to be a knife and I needed ten stitches in my leg. A few years later my father tried to choke me when I began dating a boy he didn’t like. They really are very concerned about me.
The denial evident in this reminiscence is a hallmark of the vital lie. If the force of facts is too brutal to ignore, then their meaning can be altered. The vital lie continues unrevealed, sheltered by the family’s silence, alibis, stark denial. The collusion is maintained by directing attention away from the fearsome fact, or by repackaging its meaning in an acceptable format. A psychiatrist who treats families with problems like incest and alcoholism observes how vital lies operate:
Clues are minimized, joked about, explained away, or called something else. Semantics plays a big part in minimizing what is actually occurring; euphemisms are employed to hide what is really going on. A “good” drinker, marital “disputes,” or “stern disciplinarian” can mean alcoholism, spousal violence, or child abuse. Explanations of “minor accidents” are gratefully accepted to explain the bruises and broken bones of child or spouse abuse. The “flu” excuses drunken behaviour.
Or, as the now fully grown child of an alcoholic put it, “In our family there were two very clear rules: the first was that there is nothing wrong here, and the second was, don’t tell anyone.”
A different kind of example, Jesse Jackson, recalling growing up in South Carolina, tells the following tale about an encounter with a man named Jack, the white owner of the local grocery:
This particular day I was in a hurry, because my grandfather was outside and he gave me a nickel to get some Mary Janes and cookies or something. There were eight or ten black people in there, and I said, “Jack, can I have a cookie?” He had been cutting bologna or something. I whistled for his attention. Suddenly, he was on me with a gun pointed at my head. He said “Never whistle at me again!” The thing that stood out in my mind was that the other blacks who were in the store acted as if they didn’t see it. They stayed busy. They had a deep and abiding fear. I was not so much afraid of the gun as I was of what my father would do. He had just gotten back from World War Two, and I knew he had not only a temper but a mind that had been opened up after being exposed to Europe during the war. He had become more resentful of the system. I knew that if my father heard about it he’d either kill Jack or get killed. So I suppressed it. It came out many years later. But that was the nature of life in the occupied zone.
The flip side of that story, in a sense, is told by Barney Simon, a South African playwright, reflecting on an unspoken truth about apartheid. If in America blacks suppress rage toward whites, in South Africa whites repress tenderness toward blacks:
All white South Africans are brought up in early childhood by black women. I remember the one in our house, Rose. …You spend your first years on the black woman’s back. You spend your first years with your cheek pressed against her neck. You hear her songs, her vernacular. You go to the park with her and sit among other black women like her. You go into her room and maybe her lover is there. You develop this knowledge of each other. But at a certain point, South Africa tells you that knowledge is obscene, and a crime — worse than a crime, a sin. You are told to forget what you already know.
Military history is rich with another variety of what I am trying to get at — take for example, cases of outright refusal to believe the truth:
In the First World War, a week before the Germans launched their first attack with poison gas, a German deserter brought a warning that such an attack would occur. He even brought along one of the masks that the German troops had been issued to protect them. The French commander who received the message dismissed it as absurd, and rebuked his messenger for not having gone through proper channels.
In World War II, Herman Goring was told that an Allied fighter had been shot down over a German city, the first that had ever been seen that far behind the Axis lines. This meant the Allies had developed a long-range fighter that could escort bombers over Germany. Goring, a pilot himself, “knew” such a development was impossible. His reply: “I officially assert that American fighter planes did not reach Aachen… I herewith give you an official order that they weren’t there.”
In the same war, on the day the Germans began their offensive against Russia, a Soviet frontline unit sent the message to headquarters, “We are being fired on, What shall we do?” To which headquarters responded: “You must be insane.”
For another case in point, from a vaster arena, ponder the future of mankind. “Nuclear weapons,” says an item in The Wall Street Journal, “are accumulating at a cost of $1 million a minute world-wide, with the stockpile exceeding 50,000 weapons.” At the same time, according to the World Health Organization, fifty million children die each year from diarrhoea, the world’s biggest killer — and one preventable by the simplest sanitation and nutrition.
Psychiatrists give the name “nuclear numbing” to the widely observed inability of people to let themselves feel the fear, anger, and rebelliousness that fully grasping the human predicament — notably, the arms race — might bring them. People seem to anaesthetize themselves, as though the danger were too vast to arouse concern.
Lester Grinspoon, a psychiatrist, notes how, in nuclear numbing, people “avoid acquiring information that would make vague fears specific enough to require decisive action”; how “they contrive to ignore the implication of the information they do allow to get through.” In other worlds, they treat this — everyone’s problem — as if it were someone else’s.
These diverse instances all exemplify the power of a skewed attention to hide a painful truth. What connects them is that, in each case, in some way, a looming anxiety is appeased by a twist of attention. [ignored]
Attention is the gathering of information crucial to existence. Anxiety is the response when that information registers as a threat. [discomfort] The intriguing part of this relationship is straightforward: we can use our attention to deny threat, and so cushion ourselves from anxiety.
In some ways that is a useful self-deception. In others it is not.
In the Soviet Union every publication has its own censor. But the journalists and editors who work there rarely confront the censor’s pen: they perform this task for him automatically, applying his standards as they do their work. Lev Poliakov, a Russian emigre who worked as a freelance photographer in Russia, tells of his going to a city near the Caspian on assignment for a children’s magazine. The city had two large facilities, one a science centre, the other a labour camp. He was met there by a local party official, who said to him, “Look, you’re busy and I’m busy. Let’s make it easy for both of us.. Whenever you see barbed wire, just turn your back and then shoot.”
Another emigre photographer, Lev Nisnevich, took a photo of members of the Writer’s Union voting on a resolution. Included in the shot was a KGB man watching closely as the union members voted. When the picture ran int he widely read Literaturnaya Gazeta, the KGB man was cropped out, leaving only the voting members holding up their ballots. The visual impression was of a spontaneous unanimity, with no hint of other forces at work among the membership.
Such heavyhanded censorship is obvious. It is not so easy to see a similar editing in our own awareness. The incident of the cropped picture is a particularly apt metaphor for what goes on in our own minds. What enters our attention is within the frame of awareness, what we crop out vanishes.
The frame around a picture is a visual directive focusing our gaze toward what it surrounds and away from everything else. It defines what is in the picture and what is out. The framer’s art is to build margins that blend with a picture so we notice what is framed rather than the frame itself.
So with attention. It defines what we notice, but with such subtlety that we rarely notice how we notice. Attention is the frame around experience.
Except in special cases — say, a gilded, baroque monstrosity — we don’t notice the frame. But just as the wrong frame intrudes and ruins the picture, a distorted attention warps experience, inhibits action.
A skewed awareness can be disastrous. One theme of Greek tragedy is the sorry chain of events begun by a slight flaw of perception at the outset. Hannah Arendt, the social philosopher, described how the mix of self-deception and free will allows us to do evil, believing it good.
The deadening of one’s pain through the warping of awareness may be an affliction to which the modern sensibility is particularly vulnerable. John Updike, in a review of Kafka’s works, states it well: “The century since Franz Kafka was born has been marked by the idea of ‘modernism’ — a self-consciousness new among centuries, a consciousness of being new. Sixty years after his death, Kafka epitomizes one aspect of the modern mind-set: a sensation of anxiety and shame chose centre cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated; a sense of an infinite difficulty within things, impeding every step; a sensitivity acute beyond usefulness, as if the nervous system, flayed of its old hide of social usage and religious belief, just record every touch as pain.”
Blind spots are especially tempting to a mind-set hypersensitive to pain. They offer easy solace from the flow of facts that prick that pain, whether the source is deeply personal, such as the memory of a childhood hurt or this morning’s rebuff from a spouse, or public — tortures and murders by unjust regimes, nuclear perils.
Some filters on awareness are essential by virtue of the flood of data available at each moment to our senses. The cortex, the newest part of the human brain, expends much of its energy picking and choosing among this flood. “Indeed,” suggests the neuroscientist Monte Buchsbaum, “filtering or coping with the tremendous information overload that the human eye, ear, and other sense organs can dump upon the central nervous system may be one of the major functions of the cerebral cortex.”
Perception is selection. Filtering out information is, in the main, for the good [discrimination - the virtue of Malkuth]. But the very capacity of the brain to do so makes it vulnerable to skewing what is admitted to awareness, what rejected. Buchsbaum goes on to point out that the differences in what people filter out “would then appear to produce a different consciousness of the external environment, each person biasing his admission or rejection of sensory signals.”
Both James and Freud had part of the truth. Attention is ruled by forces both conscious and unconscious. Some are innocuous, such as the limits on capacity set by the mechanics of the mind. Some are crucial, such as the bias introduced by saliency, where what matters at the moment takes the foreground of awareness. Some, as I will show, can be self-defeating. Foremost among these is the self-deception induced by the trade-off between anxiety and awareness.
The trade-off of a distorted awareness for a sense of security is, I believe, and organizing principle operating over many levels and realms of human life. My intent is to sketch this attention-anxiety link, which I see as part of a complex web embedded in the workings of the brain, the texture of mind, and the fabric of social life.
My focus is on how information flows, and how that flow is skewed by the interplay between pain and attention. The notion of the link between pain and attention is not new. Freud elaborated it with brilliance. But recent theory and research, particularly in the field of information-processing, offers a more articulated view of the mind’s inner dynamics, one that can be extended to the structure of group life and the social construction of reality.
Neither Freud nor any other student of the mind could have made that leap in this way before the last decade. In recent years cognitive psychologists have developed a model of how the mind works which is far more detailed and solidly based than any we have had before. That model allows us to gain a new sense of how our experience is shaped, and of the hidden forces that sculpt personal and social reality.
That terrain — the stretch from the mind’s mechanics to social life — is the domain we will explore here.[In our pathworking, too] Our journey begins, though, at an even more basic level: in the brain’s system for sensing pain. At the neural level lies the cardinal model for the trade-off between pain and awareness. The brain, as we shall see, has the ability to bear pain by masking its sting, but at the cost of a diminished awareness.
That same organizing principle is repeated at each successive level of behaviour: in the mind’s mechanics, in the makeup of character, in group life, and in society. In each of these domains the variety of “pain” blocked from awareness is successively refined, from stress and anxiety, to painful secrets, to threatening or embarrassing facts of social life.
My thesis, in sum, revolves around these premises:
- The mind can protect itself against anxiety dy diminishing awareness.
- This mechanism creates a blind spot: a zone of blocked attention and self-deception.
- Such blind spots occur at each major level of behaviour from the psychological to the social
This book is in six parts. The first sketches the trade-off between pain and attention, showing that interaction at work in the brain and in the mind’s handling of anxiety and stress. The neural mechanism for the trade-off involves the opoids, the “brain’s morphine,” which numb sensations of pain and dim attention. An analogue of this neural trade-off is a psychological one: soothing anxiety by withdrawing attention.
The second part elaborates a working model of the mind, to show the mechanisms that allow the attention-anxiety trade-off. Two key concepts here are the crucial role in mental life of the unconscious, and the notion that the mind packages information in “schemes,” a sort of mental code for representing experience. [known as "demons" in the field of computer artificial intelligence] Schemes operate in the unconscious, out of awareness. They direct attention toward what is salient and ignore the rest of experience — an essential task. But when schemes are driven by the fear of painful information, they can create a blind spot in attention.
In the third part, this model of mind brings us to a new understanding of psychological defenses — the quintessential self-deceptions. This section recasts psychodynamics in light of the links between attention and schemes, showing how, in the mind’s design, inattention to painful truths shields us from anxiety.
When such soothing inattention becomes a habit, it comes to shape character. Part four traces the ways such habits of avoiding anxiety through inattention are passed on from parent to child. As personality forms, a given set of protective schemes dominates, and with them the blind spots and self-deceits they lead to.
The fifth part describes group life — using the family as a prototype — showing how shared schemes guide group dynamics. The same anxiety-attention trade-off operates here, carving out blind spots in a group’s collective awareness.
The sixth part uses the same template to explore the social construction of reality. [Malkuth] Shared schemes are at work in the social realm, creating a consensual reality. This social reality is pocked with zones of tacitly denied information. The ease with which such social blind spots arise is due to the structure of the individual mind. Their social cost is shared illusions.
This is a groundbreaking expedition, [an expedition under-ground] a quick survey of terrain in several domains of experience. It stakes out a territory to which I hope to return another time for more detailed mapping. I must ask the lay reader’s forbearance with my reviews of theory and research. They make, at times, for difficult going. My hope is that the reward for the reader will be a new understanding of his own experience.
I also must ask expert readers — fellow psychologists, cognitive scientists, psychoanalysts, neuroscientists, sociologists, and any others upon whose territory I infringe — to forgive my hurried reconnaissance of these rich subjects. I have much ground to cover, and can only skim the surface of each area in passing. For example, I do not explicitly address the work of Ruben Gur and Harold Sackheim, psychologists whose focus has been how self-deception is at play in mental disorders such as depression. My general approach is compatible with theirs, though from a different perspective.
The extrapolation I attempt from an information-processing model of the mind into the domains of personality, group dynamics, and social reality has not, to my knowledge been attempted before. I do so here in the service of a specific hypothesis, namely that our experience is shaped and limited by the pain-attention trade-off. This unified model of behaviour at all levels makes my task easier. But I propose such a grand synthesis with an equally grand trepidation.
This is not a book of easy answers (I suspect there are none), nor a profile against which to measure oneself. It simply offers a new map of experience, with particular emphases on some of the more shadowy patches. The topic is how things work, not what to do about them. The new understanding of the mind that science has come to, I trust, can offer insights into our personal and collective mental lives.
My intent is to give the reader a clearer look through a veil or two at the margins of awareness. These veils are most apt to take over in those realms that matter most to us: in our innermost thoughts, in our crucial relationships, in closely knit groups, in constructing a consensual reality. I mean to suggest how those veils come to exist. But I do not pretend to know how best to pierce them nor indeed to know exactly when they should be swept away. [The dance of the seven veils: stripping away the veils of ignorance, can be described as successively travelling the Paths in order from 32 to 11, each successive veil having the same colour and attributes as each planetary path encountered that way.]
There is a peculiar paradox when it comes to confronting those ways in which we do not see. To put it in the form of one of R.D. Laing’s “knots”:
The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice
there is little we can do
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds
Gregory Bateson coined a germane usage. He used the word “dormitive” to denote an obfuscation, a failure to see things as they are. “Dormitive” is derived from the Latin dormire, to sleep. “I stole the word from Moliere, ” Batesone once explained to me. “At the end of his Bourgeois Gentilhomme, there is a dog-Latin coda in which a group of medieval doctors are giving an oral quiz to a candidate for his doctoral exam. They ask him, ‘Why is it, candidate, that opium puts people to sleep?’ And the candidate triumphantly replies, ‘Because, learned doctors, it contains a dormitive principle.’” That is to say, it puts people to sleep because it puts people to sleep.
The coinage “dormitive” is applicable here. To steal the word from Bateson, dormitive frames are the forces that make for a wakeing sleep at the margins of awareness.
In the catalogue of factors that shape awareness, my special focus is on the dormitive frame — the bends and twists insinuated into attention by the urge for security. If we can glimpse the edges that frame our experience, we are a bit freer to expand our margins. We may want to have more say over them, to consider whether we want the limits on thought and action so imposed.
My aim is to ponder our collective predicament: if we so easily lull ourselves into subtle sleep, how can we awaken? [or becomes buddhas, "buddha" meaning "awake"] The first step in that, it seems to me is to notice how it is that we are asleep.