Last time we looked at the collective dark night of the soul and how it’s triggered by the collapse of the false self and its narratives. Next we need to explore how to deal with this meltdown and come out the other side. What do you do when confronted by a manifestation of the darkest part of the collective shadow? How do you accept the darkness without making it worse?
To answer these questions, I turned to the brilliant Dispelling Wetiko by Paul Levy. It was published 8 years ago but is even more relevant now than it was then – worth reading multiple times and always illuminating. If you haven’t read it before, now would be the perfect time. Read my short review here.
First up, let’s define our terms. Wetiko is an archetype that arises from the collective unconscious and represents a self-destructive aspect of the shadow. The name comes from Native American cultures – various tribes give it a different name – and it describes a wicked person or spirit who terrorises others by doing evil acts.
Paul Levy calls wetiko a psychospiritual disease of the soul, a kind of psychic virus that leads to mass psychosis. It arises from the belief in a separate self that puts a boundary between you and the world. Wetiko thrives on this split in the psyche because this is what creates your shadow. It represents:
“the aspect of ourselves that is hiding from the light and resisting the growth of consciousness.”
Everyone has been infected by wetiko because everyone is caught in the illusion of duality to a greater or lesser extent. You get hooked into the wetiko virus through the blind spots in your shadow. It works best when you’re not aware of it and that’s how it gets its power – by feeding on your fears. It encourages you to sleepwalk through life and stay unconscious of your true nature.
To free yourself from its power, all you need to do is see it – to become aware of your own unconscious and the way you collude with your desire to remain asleep.
Unfortunately, as the collective becomes increasingly infected by the wetiko blindness, society falls into a mass psychosis. We all start to reinforce each other’s blind spots and the whole thing spirals out of control. It becomes what Thomas Merton called “a crisis of sanity” – which is where we are now. And none of us is immune:
“To the extent we’re not fully awake, we each have a part of us that’s mad, which gets acted out in our life. … The part of us that thinks we don’t have a mad part is itself our mad part. It is only by confronting what is insane and inhuman in ourselves, however, that we become truly human.”
It’s very hard to see how mad we are because our insanity has become normalised – the ‘new normal.’ Anyone who doesn’t go along with the madness – the genuinely awake and sane – are considered crazy. More on that here: Mad to Be Normal
A huge part of this problem is the fact that our materialist culture denies the existence of the psyche in the first place. Wetiko flourishes in such an environment and feeds itself on our blissful ignorance. And since wetiko doesn’t want us to know ourselves, our ignorance grows and deepens. It’s a vicious cycle.
If we remain unconscious of our destructive potential, as characterised by wetiko, then we’ll destroy ourselves. This would destroy wetiko too, although it seems oblivious to the fact.
The only way through this crisis in consciousness is to face the darkness and integrate it. That doesn’t mean acting it out. It means integrating the opposites within the psyche and coming to understand our true divine nature.
Easier said than done! And to make it worse, wetiko tends to manifest directly in the lives of people who are in the process of awakening, as Levy explains:
“In addition to the weak and defenceless, [wetikos] seek out people who are on the verge of a quantum, evolutionary leap in consciousness, but have not yet fully integrated their realisations and come out the other side. These individuals are in an energetically sensitive and ‘charged’ condition, and their openness and vulnerability invites the vampiric entities to help themselves and gorge on the light of their prey’s expanding awareness.”
Light is a metaphor for the life energy, the essence of your being as an incarnate spirit. So wetiko is a similar figure to Bluebeard, the failed magician who lives by stealing the light of his innocent victims. More here: Surviving Bluebeard – How to Deal with the Predator
This light-eating or soul-eating aspect of wetiko tells us that we’re talking about archetypal evil. Evil wants to annihilate everything and turn all Being into nothing. It destroys spiritual growth in order to defend and maintain the false self.
To nourish the potential of evil in your soul, all you have to do is refuse to see. This happens when you have the possibility of becoming conscious of something that’s been hidden in your unconscious – it’s emerging into your awareness – and you deliberately choose not to see it. You look away, deny it’s there or rationalise it away and remain wilfully unconscious, or wilfully blind.
People also do this to each other when they refuse to see or hear the reality of another’s experience. Or when they try to repress the truth in order to keep people in ignorance.
“Those with unlived creativeness try to destroy other people’s creativity, just as those with unlived possibilities of consciousness try to stop other people’s efforts toward consciousness; what the soul does to itself it can’t help but do to others.”
Entire cultures can become riddled with this evil and it can take many different forms. It often hides behind ideals and belief systems – the ‘isms’, what Jung called the “viruses of our day.” These belief systems and ideologies are used by people to justify predatory behaviour and corruption. So freedom is destroyed in the name of freedom. Ditto democracy, fairness, and so on.
“Where the evil of wetiko is endemic, there tends to be an ethical, developmental arrest, both in individuals and throughout the society.”
This obviously tends to make the whole situation worse over time because the unethical behaviour feeds on itself in an orgy of destructiveness until there’s nothing left. However, this process also triggers a countermovement within the psyche.
“Jung recognised that whenever evil appeared in an individual person’s process, some deeper good almost always came out of the experience that would not have emerged without the manifestation of evil.”
Assuming that whatever it is doesn’t kill you.
“…the emergence of darkness calls forth a hidden light. … As the Chinese yin/yang symbol illustrates, encoded in one of the opposites is the seed of the other, which is to say that hidden in the darkness is a speck of light.”
However, this depends on your ability to recognise what’s being revealed. And that’s the nature of evil itself.
What is evil and where does it come from? Levy suggests that evil comes from the way we split our psyche and reject part of ourselves, pushing it into the shadow. And at the deepest level, it comes from a rejection of the true nature of reality and your unity with all being.
“Ultimately speaking, evil’s origin is our self-contraction against our own inner boundless radiance.”
In other words, it’s a rejection of God. In Buddhism, this is simply called ignorance. People who are possessed by wetiko aren’t evil themselves – they’re just deluded. In their ignorance, they don’t know who they are.
Does this mean that evil (and wetiko) isn’t real?
Wetiko may function through our consciousness but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. The outer world reflects the inner world. We dream it up and then it manifests in the outer world and becomes real. It’s effects are certainly real and we have to deal with the consequences of our unconsciousness every day.
So wetiko doesn’t represent a ‘thing’ in the objective sense, but it’s also not just a projection of our imagination either. It’s a manifestation of the dream-like quality of reality and you need four-value logic to get your head around it. This probably won’t help, but here goes:
- Wetiko is real
- Wetiko isn’t real
- Wetiko is both real and isn’t real
- Wetiko is neither real nor isn’t real
Right?! What this is saying, is that wetiko (and anything else for that matter) doesn’t inherently exist. It only exists in relationship to everything else and it all arises together in what Buddhists call interdependent co-origination. More on that here: The Sun of Wisdom – Teachings of the Noble Nagarjuna
This slippery nature of reality is good news. It means that wetiko can be used to wake us up and remember who we are.
“The paradox is that, on the one hand, our clinging and grasping, our self-contraction, is the very act that appears to be blocking our true nature. And yet, from another point of view which is just as true, our self-contraction is itself a disguised expression of our true nature. From the ‘absolute’ point of view, a state which includes the relative, and yet simultaneously embraces and transcends it in a higher synthesis, everything is spirit. Seemingly obscuring our true nature, our clinging is, in fact, its own revelation – for ‘who’ is the me who is clinging?”
This reflects Christ’s radical teaching: Resist not evil – because at its root, evil is illusory. The more you resist, the stronger it gets because your resistance makes it more real. Your resistance feeds it and makes it stronger.
The only way to free yourself from wetiko is to wake up within the dream and recognise the illusory nature of the separation of self and other. In the end:
“…there is no place to take refuge, except in the true nature of our being.”
In part 2 we’ll look at how wetiko is helping us to wake up...
- Going Dark: Stalking the Predator
- The Handless Maiden: The Devil Returns
- Sympathy for the Devil: The Nature of Evil
- Embracing Darkness: how to feed your demons