“One does not become conscious by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – CG Jung
There’s a demonic creature that stalks us through our nightmares. He targets the innocent and the hopeful. He squats in the dark, hidden until he attacks. He wants to destroy us, to stop us from growing or knowing the truth. He wants to take our light for himself.
In this modern age it seems irrational to talk about demonic forces and evil. Surely we’ve outgrown these ideas. They belong to an earlier, simple-minded time when people believed in goblins and fairies and the bogeyman under the bed. We’re rational, thank you very much. We know what’s what. We’ve been to the moon, why on earth would we believe in the devil?
Yet we’re hooked on TV dramas and movies that depict evil forces running rampant: zombies, vampires, dragons, dark wizards, corrupt politicians and rogue chemistry teachers. What draws us to these stories? Why do we need them? Perhaps they help us to confront an uncomfortable truth about who we are.
Meet the Predator
Every living thing has a predator. In the old days, humans were prey to all manner of scary creatures with big teeth and claws. These days we’re more likely to be knocked down by a car than pounced on by a wolf. We live in sterile environments, removed from nature and cut off from our deeper instincts, which does strange things to our minds. In this ‘rational’ age we mostly prey on each other.
Our biggest predator lives within our own mind. It’s the part of us that is against nature and opposed to consciousness, and it lives in the deepest, darkest part of the psyche. The predator exists from birth, even if you’re psychologically healthy. It’s an archetype that arises from the collective unconscious and functions through the shadow. It reveals our blind spots and fears by acting out what is unconscious and disowned.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes this natural predator as “the most deceitful and most powerful fugitive in the psyche” whose mission is “to turn all crossroads into closed roads.” It is reclusive and shuns the light, like a true vampire. The predator is evil in the sense that it is against life, and it will rise up and cause mayhem if it sees an opportunity to block your progress or happiness.
In stories and in dreams the predator often appears as a dark figure: captor, thief, rapist, thug, seducer or seductress, evil witch, vampire, or psychopath. For example, in Bluebeard he is depicted as a failed magician – one who has tried to go beyond nature or become more powerful than he should. He has no light of his own so is outcast and forced to steal the light (or power) of others.
The failed magician, like Icarus who flies too close to the sun, goes against the rules of nature and is punished for his transgression. Puffed up with an inflated ego, he wants to be equal to or better than God, and believes he can control the forces of life and death. In the film The Prestige two rival magicians compete for supremacy, going to extreme lengths to outdo each other. Using a machine created by Tesla, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) performs a trick where he appears to transport himself from one part of the theatre to another. But his success comes at a high price. The machine works by creating a duplicate copy of Angier and every time he performs the trick, he drowns in a tank under the stage. He has effectively become immortal, and yet must die over and over again, turning his life into a living death.
Every culture has its own version of the predator. Native American legend tells of an evil spirit called wetiko which can possess someone or make them do terrible things. It feeds on our fears and spreads itself like a psychic virus. In his brilliant book Dispelling Wetiko, Paul Levy describes this mind parasite as the root of humanity’s inhumanity. The wetiko spirit represents a sickness of the soul, a kind of collective psychosis:
“The transpersonal evil of wetiko can be considered that tendency which – whether in ourselves or others – inhibits personal growth, destroys or limits innate potentialities, curtails freedom, fragments or disintegrates the personality, diminishes the quality of interpersonal relationships, and creates divisiveness in the whole human family.” – Dispelling Wetiko
Another related figure is Mara, the ‘Evil One’ or ‘Dark One’ in Buddhist cosmology. Mara rules over samsara, the realm of ignorance and unending desire – i.e. this world. He stands against spiritual truth and tries to stop anyone who comes close to attaining enlightenment. When the Buddha realised nirvana, Mara opposed him. First he tempted Gotama with beautiful women. When this failed, he tried to scare him with hordes of monsters. Buddha ignored them. Finally, Mara demanded to know who would bear witness to Gotama’s right to be enlightened. The earth responded in a deafening roar, “I bear you witness!” and Mara vanished.
Here’s a more contemporary version: the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who – quantum predators that disguise themselves as stone statues and can only move when you’re not looking at them. Described by the Doctor as being “as old as the universe, or very nearly…” and “the only psychopaths to kill you nicely.” The Weeping Angels zap you back in time and feed on the ‘potential energy’ of the life you would have lived in the present. If you come across one, whatever you do, don’t blink!
Stalking the Predator
The process of individuation and awakening involves going into the darkness to embrace the shadow and become whole, but it’s important not to get trapped in the dark. In mythology and folk tales, the predator usually has its own stalker or some kind of being that helps the hero defeat the darkness. When facing the predator you can, like the Buddha, call on the earth and the natural instincts of the Wild Woman, your body’s wisdom and intuition, to help you stand your ground and declare your right to exist and to know.
The predator can then be seen as a catalyst for growth or a ‘necessary evil’ that triggers an initiation into greater consciousness.
I once had a dream where a man held a gun to the back of my head – it was so vivid I could feel the muzzle pressing into my skull as I screamed for him to stop. Out of nowhere, a woman appeared with her own gun. She shoved it between his legs and threatened to blow his balls off if he didn’t let me go!
Yes, my inner Wild Woman is armed and dangerous ;).
Estes says that when a story has no “goodly antagonist” to fight against the predator, it’s seen as a horror story. This brings to mind stories where the predator (or the devil) wins, such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man.
Learning about the predator and how it operates will keep you safe. Too much naivety could spell disaster and turn your life into a horror story. The predator won’t hesitate to bleed you dry if you give him half a chance.
Next we’ll have a closer look at the predator and how he operates by exploring the story of Bluebeard in: Surviving Bluebeard