Mythology · Psychology

Sympathy for the Devil: the Nature of Evil

Where there is light, there is darkness, but hidden within the dark are the seeds of creation and the key to finding the light. In the last two posts we met the predator and discovered how he works in the story of Bluebeard. It’s time to get our hands dirty and jump into the viper’s nest to explore the origins of our arch-nemesis.

Daemonic Creativity

Creativity is an alchemical process which transforms the chaotic mess of the unconscious and gives birth to new life and new forms. When this natural creative process is subverted it begins to work against life and becomes destructive. This gives us a clue to the origins of the predator in our psyche.

The predator is an archetype which means it’s transpersonal and collective. Archetypes are daemonic forces of nature that represent the urge to create and affirm life. They can be experienced positively or negatively and used for creation or destruction, depending on how we approach them. The daemon also relates to our inner voice or guiding spirit, the ‘still small voice’ that draws us towards our calling. It works through our creativity and imagination, and is otherwise known as our creative spirit or soul.

If this natural force is respected and allowed to flow, life and creativity flourish. But if the daemonic isn’t honoured and given form in creative ways, it turns against us. The daemonic becomes demonic.

So the predator is a demonic force which opposes life and creativity. He arises in our psyche when we don’t honour the natural forces of life. When we deny the gods they tend to turn nasty. Dionysus would drive people crazy if they didn’t honour him. He was the god of mystics and murderers – denial of the light of truth, as seen by the mystic, leads to the orgy of destruction seen in the murderer.

If the predator represents a force opposed to life, does that mean he stands for death? Not really. Life and death are a cycle, not a dualism and life doesn’t oppose death. Life contains death. The opposite of death is birth, and both are contained within life. The predator doesn’t represent death because his destructiveness doesn’t serve life. True death always happens in service of life, it feeds energy back into itself and creates something new from the mulch.

Life is a cyclical process of birth, death, and then rebirth. Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, death can be seen as a kind of recycling where the body returns to its constituent parts. A corpse teems with life in the form of maggots and flies. After death, the body is food for worms, and rebirth comes in the flesh of birds, sprouting mushrooms, and long-legged bugs.

The predator’s death is pure destruction with no reason or meaning except to stop life. It is complete annihilation. True death means transformation.

How did the predator become so disconnected from the natural cycles of life, and why do we need this negative force? Surely life would be easier without it.

A Dying King and the Holy Grail

Feeling peckish

The predator is related to another archetype which goes by various names: the Negative Father, Cronus or Saturn, and the senex. This archetype is often depicted as a weak, injured old man or a dying king, and it represents the part of the psyche that has become fixed and calcified. The Negative Father is a tyrant or dictator, obsessed with power and control because he fears weakness and vulnerability. He devours his own children to stop them overthrowing him; the ultimate irrational authority that can only rule through force.

This is the ego on a power trip, clinging to control in fear of its own destruction, and lashing out at anything that gets in its way or opposes its power. But the tyrant isn’t really in control. He’s ruled by the darkness of his shadow which poisons his thoughts against life until everything he touches dies.

The Dying King is crying out for transformation and healing, but sulks in his castle while the land around him withers and dies. It takes the arrival of the hero Percival in search of the grail, to ask the right question and trigger the healing of the king and his land.

Here’s another clue to the source of the predator: it’s the banishment of the divine feminine archetype, represented by the grail cup, that creates the Dying King. He has rejected his own soul and the loss is slowly killing him. The grail is right there in his castle, but he can’t access it because he can’t listen to his soul. As soon as the grail is acknowledged by Percival, the healing begins.

The grail restores life by turning poison into medicine. This is the secret of alchemy: the chaos and darkness of the prima materia is used to create the alchemical gold, or soul. The best is found hidden in the worst, and it’s the darkest part of the psyche which contains the key to our wholeness. As we saw in the last post, Bluebeard literally carries the key to our awakening.

“The deepest work is usually the darkest. A brave woman, a wisening woman, will develop the poorest psychic land, for if she builds only on the best land of her psyche, she will have for a view the least of what she is. So do not be afraid to investigate the worst.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

(This applies to men too!)

To live fully and creatively we must listen to the voice of our soul, our daemon. But it’s this communion that the predator seeks to pervert and destroy. He tries to disrupt the natural cycles of life because he can’t submit to their rules – he doesn’t want to surrender to the soul. In Bluebeard the predator is a failed magician, a figure that has no light of his own. Light, in this case, stands for soul. To create a soul you must listen to it and follow its promptings. But the predator can’t, or won’t, do this, so the failed magician is also a failed shaman. This failure to shamanise, or create his own soul, condemns him to steal and destroy the soul of others.

We see this tragic process unfold in the lives of psychopaths, paedophiles and murderers, locked into cycles of destructive behaviour they can’t escape:

“Soul demands of the serial killer what it demands of us all – that he metaphorically kill his ego in order that his soul might live. He chooses instead to literally kill his soul in order that his ego might live. Soul, however, cannot be killed. It is not only immortal, but it is also the very root from which the ego has sprung. Any attempt to uproot soul only makes it come back at us in distorted form, as a demonic image which has to be killed again and again.” – The Philosopher’s Secret Fire, Patrick Harpur

This is what the predator desires – to kill the soul. But it’s impossible and so the predator is on a fool’s errand. Why does he persist?

Cat Looking

Entropy and the Devil

Life evolves through the conflict of opposites. We don’t grow and become strong unless we have something to push against – resistance creates strength and structure. For example, the lack of gravity in space causes muscles to atrophy so astronauts need to do special exercises to preserve muscle mass. We’re not designed to float about in zero gravity. Our feet are meant to be in the dirt.

Growth means change, which can’t happen outside of time. With time comes birth and death, and the bane of all our lives – entropy. This is the second law of thermodynamics which states that disorder increases in a closed system. Without our constant attention, everything eventually breaks down: dust accumulates, machines rust, and soles wear thin.

This means we must choose to become more conscious because if we allow ourselves to drift and fall into bad habits, entropy takes over and life starts to fall apart. Entropy is a destructive force, but without it life couldn’t exist. It only seems evil to us because it interferes with our carefully laid plans. Impermanence is one of the three marks of existence in Buddhism, which means it’s a basic fact of life so we must comes to terms with it. We can’t live without entropy.

Does this mean we can’t live without the predator? Perhaps evil is the price we pay for freedom. Our ability to choose to become more conscious opposes entropy and creates order. Evil only wins if we avoid the precarious business of growing a soul by refusing to exercise that freedom. Our inner predator is nourished every time we choose to look away from something we need to see, or remain wilfully unconscious or blind to an important truth.

“Repressed individuation feeds evil, as does unexpressed or repressed creativity, which transforms the potentially helpful voice of the daemon into a destructive demon.” – Dispelling Wetiko, Paul Levy

Looked at from this perspective, the role of the devil is to keep us on our toes. If he catches us dozing, he pokes us with a stick. It hurts, but it gets us moving again.

Cat and Mouse
No fun for the mouse

Positive Disintegration

So evil turns out to be necessary. If the devil didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him. But here’s the thing: a ‘necessary’ evil isn’t ‘evil’ if it’s necessary. If evil performs a necessary function in life, then it’s not really against life. (Is it? Discuss!) Perhaps the predator isn’t evil after all. Perhaps he’s just misunderstood.

There’s no doubt he represents a dangerous aspect of the psyche which goes bad when it’s misused or ignored. But he serves a useful function too. Without the dark, we would never find the light. We would never awaken or grow up. Confronting the painful facts of life can be shattering, but it also serves our soul growth. Without the predator we wouldn’t survive. He initiates us into the truth about life and death, as James Hillman says in Re-Visioning Psychology:

“It is he within who is driven out of stable connections, who cannot settle, cannot conform, because he is driven to unsettle all forms. But this fugue in the soul need not be condemned to play the antisocial criminal, since precisely his mordant insights are those that can awaken the callow unpsychological innocent – who also lives within us – to discern among ideas, discover new perspectives, and survive. This the rogue errant can teach – psychological survival. Thus may our psychopathic shadow become a guiding psychopomp and bring about a reformation of the innocents from below, through the shadow – of the lamb by the wolf.”

By struggling with our darkness we trigger the awareness of its opposite – our light and creativity – and so become spiritual warriors or Bodhisattvas. Jung called the Devil “the godfather of man as a spiritual being” because spiritual awakening can only happen when we understand the darkness and then accept it in order to become whole. This is why Satan was called the Adversary – we can only become conscious through the awareness of opposites.

The Devil is a Trickster. He doesn’t exist apart from us – we dream him up every time we choose to remain in darkness. He relies on the split in our minds that convinces us we’re separate from others and the world. But it’s only through the split in our minds that we become aware of the light and discover who we really are. Satan then becomes Lucifer, the Light-bringer, a catalyst for consciousness and awakening.

So the predator is an initiatory archetype that tips us into a process of positive disintegration. He opposes our desire to live and grow, and so catalyses our quest to discover our own power and soul. As a threshold guardian he forces us to become strong enough to evolve and expand our consciousness. We must learn to stand what we see, and life will confront us with many painful truths, not least of these being the predator himself.

Paul Levy says that ultimately “evil’s origin is our self-contraction against our own inner boundless radiance.” This may be true, but without the development of the separate self, we would never discover that inner radiance. The predator’s poison becomes the medicine of awakening when we embrace the shadow and infuse it with the light of our true nature.

Further reading:

Image: Saturn

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