by Scott Preston edited by O Society July 18, 2019
If you understand how psychological projection operates (and why) you’ll certainly realise there’s a hell of a lot of it around these days. This is something that concerned Jean Gebser quite a bit so we should spend some time on this because, essentially, the work that Gebser thought we needed to do with ourselves is a matter of dealing with the projections. Insight into the projections (and subsequently retracting the projections) also belongs to diaphaneity or “the transparency of the world” and is a contribution to the development of the new more integral consciousness structure.
Projection usually begins with what we call “denialism”, and especially with what Ernest Becker called “The Denial of Death”. In this denialism lies the beginnings of the Shadow. The Shadow is a kind of constellation or “complex” of all those seemingly negative autobiographical elements of our own lives and persons that we suppress, deny, or cast into the outer darkness, as it were, and which we may describe as being “psychic irritants” or which we sense as being psychic “pollutants”, so to speak. This denialism that makes for the Shadow is often due to an overweening moralism, exaggerated piety, and sense of self-righteousness, which Blake also thought of as the most distasteful characteristics of his demented Zoa named “Urizen”.
Urizen is, ironically, the Father of the Shadow.
We will continue to use this term “The Shadow” for this constellation of denied or repressed truths, guilt, energies, traumas, pain, fears, emotions, experiences, etc about ourselves which we deny entry into our awareness or our self-image, but which, festering in the darkness, make for the pressure of “the social volcano”. On occasion, the Shadow may even appear in dreams or nightmares as some visible entity, as it did for Robert Louis Stevenson in his dream vision of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Nietzsche uses the metaphor of “high noon — time of the shortest shadow” also as insight into the Shadow, and our “self-loathing” is also of the Shadow. This underlies Nietzsche’s ambivalence about “the death of God” and his “two centuries of nihilism”. While “the death of God” (who is Blake’s Urizen) results also in the return of the repressed and attendant “two-centuries of nihilism”, it was also for Nietzsche high-time that we dealt with the Shadow.
It is this “Shadow-work” that underscores Gebser’s remarks about our present transition
“All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in an otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse. Anyone disassociated from his origin and his spiritually sensed task acts against origin. Anyone who acts against it has neither a today nor a tomorrow.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin
Now, these psychic irritants fester in the Shadow as “bad conscience”, or a vague sense of guilt, paranoia, or a kind of generalised Angst. In fact, his word “paranoia” (or “two-minds” as in the sense of being “beside oneself”) attests to the tension that exists between the ego-identity (or self-image) and its Shadow counterpart which makes for problems of “21st century schizoid man”, “cognitive dissonance” or “symbolic belief” or “duplicity” and so on. It is the irruption of the Shadow that, in fact, makes for the New Normal at all — in the sense of its problems of Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. These are pretty much the symptoms of our failure to deal effectively with the return of the repressed as “the Shadow” and the problem of projection.
The existence of the Shadow is the origins of the scapegoat and ritual victimisation — the sacrificial animal whose killing also bears away the projected guilt and sins of the collectivity. This usually took the physical form of the laying of hands upon the animal by the community as a symbolic transfer of the psychic irritants onto the animal, after which it was driven into the desert to die or ritually killed, sometimes in an awful and vengeful manner. Jesus is called “the Lamb” not because he is “meek and mild” but because he took this role upon himself in a once-and-for-all event. All sin and all guilt born away by the sacrifice once-and-for-all would free the soul to deal effectively and without fear of the Shadow.
Also, in Castaneda what is referred to as “dropping personal history” is actually disidentifying with the phantom of the self-image, or what one author has astutely referred to as being “trapped in the mirror“.
Lasch’s “culture of narcissism” is also this “trapped in the mirror” and disidentification with the self-image (or “non-attachment”) is an important part of spiritual awakening and is the actual significance of “mindfulness”.
Also, the Hindu principle Tat Vam Asi (or “Thou Art That”) is also meant to keep one alert for one’s own projections, and seeing into and through the projections as projections is an important aspect of Gebser’s “transparency of the world”. And oftentimes it is easier to see this in others than in ourselves. Shadow Work is probably the chiefest form of self-overcoming and is basically the meaning of the Hermetic transmutation of lead into gold.
Blake sometimes refers to the Shadow as “The Accuser”.
Sometimes what looks like deliberate and cynical deflection, diversion, or “direction by indirection” in which someone accuses others of things they do themselves or intend to do themselves, is actually unconscious projection. The ego-consciousness has simply edited out or censored it as incompatible with, or contradictory to, its self-image. Of course, there are those propagandists who deliberately, cynically, and self-servingly exploit the fact of projection also, and in full knowledge of how projection functions in the psyche as a kind of “release” mechanism, and we need to be alert to such cynical “under-the-radar” kinds of manipulations as attempts to trigger the projections.
One sees this projection quite a lot with self-described “superpatriots”, which is the reason Mr. Johnson held that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. He meant by that using “patriotism” as an excuse to defend the indefensible or the unworthy.
The projections are blinding and impede clarity. But they are, at the same time, a paradox. Via the projections we can come to take a more “objective” view of those psychic irritants that are too close to us to perceive otherwise, and can scrutinise them as such knowing that they are “projections”. This requires a certain equanimity of the soul, a brave willingness to face some sometimes harsh truths about ourselves, and a healthy desire for real self-knowledge, while we live in a system that has, contrariwise, made a virtue out of suppressing its self-contradictions.
Which, of course, are now coming back to bite us.