Facing the Shadow

Frame grab from a work in progress © Niko Skorpio

“In the aftermath of the carnage of World War I, a number of avant-garde thinkers and artists realized that the modern experiment had taken a serious wrong turn. The arrogant belief system of scientific progress and materialism seemed to be a cover for something deeply irrational and dangerous – what Carl Jung called the “shadow”, representing the suppressed and repressed contents of the psyche. Poets and philosophers realized that the modern alienation from nature and the cosmos had reached such a state that it literally threatened to tear the world to shreds. Despite its faith in science and progress, modern humanity, as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche realized in the nineteenth century, continued to live mythologically, influenced by unknown cosmic powers, shaken by periodic paroxysms whose origins were outside the circumscribed scope of the scientific worldview.

“When quantum physicists peeled away layer after layer of the material universe, they found that matter was made up mostly of empty space and energetic frequency, and that far from an objective reality that was actually “out there”, the nature of reality was participatory and subjective. The model of an empirical science capable of separating object from subject, matter from consciousness, turned out to be, in itself, a myth that the modern world had created. Time and space were not linear and straight but relative and curved. As the myth of objectivity collapsed, the modern world faced an abyss of relativism, which various ideologies, ranging from fascism to fundamentalism, made desperate attempts to overcome through brute force of propaganda.

“At the same time, anthropologists found that cultures aroud the world maintained practices of initiation. Indigenous people preserved a process of separation and vision quest, in which the direct experience of altered states of consciousness brought the adolescent out of egocentrism. Through a direct encounter with the Anima mundi, the soul of the world, the initiatory ordeal compelled an acceptance of sacred time and adult responsibility. Initiation dignified the individual by giving him status as a self-reliant member of the tribe and a keeper of its secrets. It soon became apparent that the only world culture that had marginalized and rejected such initiatory practices was the modern West. The consequences of this rejection, and consequent soul loss, remain severe.”

Daniel Pinchbeck, “Embracing the Archaic: Postmodern Culture and Psychedelic Initiation.” in David S. Rubin (ed.), Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art since the 1960s. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010), 50-51.

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