“Learned helplessness can prevent people from achieving their goals, something I’ve experienced first hand.”
by Scott Preston edited by O Society August 7, 2019
I’ve experienced Hell. It was nothing like how the Christians describe it. It was closer to how the Greeks described the underworld — Hades. It was a cold, gloomy, colourless, lifeless, soulless “place”, like the negative of a photograph — the very image of what is called “the pit of despair”.
For three nights and four days I wandered in that dreadful deadness some call “the dark side” — and something akin to Tolkien’s “Mordor”. Everything looked quite normal and ordinary except that it was all without any inner life or light of its own. It’s a psychic reality we collectively seem hell-bent on raising and manifesting as our new “reality”, and if I have one plea it’s this: “Please don’t!”
Some of you may recall my earlier post about that experience which I referred to as my “Days of the Black Sun”. The Black Sun, which ruled over that realm, emitted no warmth but only coldness and deadness. It was so oppressive that even death seemed preferable to enduring that awful place and that awful Black Sun. There seemed nothing I could do to escape it either. I was helpless before the relentlessness of it.
But on the fourth day, very early in the morning, as I was sitting morosely in the hallway of my university and fully anticipating yet another oppressive day of the Black Sun, the sun rose, and it was the gloriously warm and joyously life-giving star we call “Sol”. Then I knew I had passed through the crucible and had survived it.
Only later, though, did I realise that the Black Sun was well-known to the Hermeticists, and very likely known by Albrecht Dürer since his etching entitled Melancholia depicts the mood of the Black Sun so well:
And this is the Black Sun and its domain as rendered also in alchemy called the “putrefactio“
In consequence of my experience, though, I know, too, that “the Underworld” (or “the dark side”) is no fiction. Nor is the Black Sun. And that is why I abhor fascism. Its symbol is the symbol of the Black Sun and I know what it means.
This very matter called “the putrefactio” was also rendered in a recent science fiction movie I saw in The Chronicles of Riddick series, where it appears as “the Underverse” — the underworld as negative or dark side of the universe.
As menacing and dreadful as those days of the Black Sun were, nonetheless I emerged from the experience with a deeper and richer understanding of what is meant by “dark night of the soul”, “the valley of the shadow of death”, Nietzsche’s “stare into the abyss”, or Blake’s “Ulro” and Jung’s “Shadow”, or why Heraclitus also insisted Hades and Dionysus are the same.
Hades-Dionysus described by Heraclitus in Fragment 15:
If it were not in honor of Dionysus
that they conducted the procession and sang
the hymn to the male organ, their activity would be
Hades and Dionysus are the same, no matter
how much they go mad and rave celebrating
bacchic rites in honour of the latter.
I also emerged from that experience with an understanding of why faith and belief are not at all the same thing. Faith is that inner potency that carries you through experiences like that without giving up and giving in to the temptation to commit suicide, just as it was faith that carried Nietzsche through his devastating and incinerating “stare into the abyss”. And I understand completely what Albert Camus means in writing:
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
And that is exactly what is meant by “faith”.
Now, while I do not wish that experience on anyone, I also know that it is probably unavoidable, and that Gebser also knew it was unavoidable. The Black Sun and the putrefactio are implicated in Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”, and the return of the repressed means, especially, the irruption of what Jung calls “the Shadow”, and far too many people today are becoming tools and instruments of the Black Sun and slaves to the Shadow without realising this at all as part of “the New Normal”. It’s why we have the problems we do of “21st century schizoid man”, “cognitive dissonance” and duplicity in its various forms.
” A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun” is how Yeats describes the eye of his “Rough Beast” in “The Second Coming”. But that is the Black Sun. The Black Sun is the eye of the Shadow.
The emergence of the Shadow is no joke. It’s why some people today speak of an imminent “Dark Age” (Jane Jacobs, Morris Berman, et alia). Whether it will be or not, as Gebser knew also, depends upon our own capacity for insight into this. And he pretty much suggested that each of us will have to undergo our own passage through the crucible and journey through the valley of the shadow of death before we can fully appreciate what the “diaphainon” and the integral consciousness actually are.
So, this is what I understand by Nietzsche’s injunction to “become hard”. It does not mean become arrogant, but resilient, and sufficiently resilient to endure and last his “two centuries of nihilism” without tumbling into the pit of despair. If anything, resilience is even the exact opposite of arrogance.