RETURN TO ARTICLES INDEX
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart. the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand-,
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now 1 know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The Second Coming(1921)- by W.B. Yeats
According to the finest traditions of storytelling there are only a set number of archetypal story lines to draw upon and all of them relate to the human condition – to the struggle of becoming fully human. The heroes, or heroines, find themselves facing impossible conditions which can only be overcome by an initiation journey, during which the outer struggle is seen as symbolic of an inner struggle, and when this is won the outer dangers fall away.
In the old central European folk tale of “Little Red Riding Hood”. Riding Hood, in her innocence, does not really know why she should not stray from the path. She does not truly appreciate the danger of the wolf until she is eaten and released, through the charity of the woodcutter. In the sanitized version of this tale the woodcutter arrives before Riding Hood is consumed. By avoiding death she cannot be reborn. Consequently the whole transformation process is avoided.
Transformation is not a mere re-arrangement of surface elements, but a complete turning inside out of every aspect of a thing, and the greatest transformation of all is the great story of the transformation of humanity in its journey from created to creator being. As yet, this is still an unfinished story. It could go either way. We may well overshoot the “eye of the needle”. And that’s why good stories are so exciting, for whilst Good should triumph over Evil, in the end it all hangs by a thread waiting for someone to wake up at the critical moment and make the right choice.
Without the betrayal, there is no crucifixion. Christ could not have overcome the power of death and there would have been no Resurrection. There is a paradox here, which can be found at the heart of all good stories.
The last two hundred years have seen the growth of a new story telling genre, namely that of Science Fiction. This is now so often the forum for the telling of modern myths, and our modern folk tales are now also just as likely to be told in film format as in print. In the last three hundred years technology has put itself centre stage in our consciousness of the World. It provides the imaginative picture elements, which were once provided by nature. Indeed, we have entered into an era when the machine is asserting itself as a new kingdom in its own right. Whilst we may have initiated this new power it is a dangerous fallacy to assume that we are also controlling it.
The first modern fairy tale to both explore this issue and capture the popular imagination was Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”. It is an undisputed practice of the modern scientific method that if one wishes to be accurate in their observation of nature’s phenomena one must exclude themselves from the process, so as not to ‘colour’ the result with one’s own point of view. (1) This begs the question, if the human being who wishes to call him/herself a scientist effectively absents hem/herself from the process of observation then who, or what will move into the ‘vacuum’ to take the place of the conscious agent. Mary Shelly’s novel was published in 1818, at the dawn of our modern technological era. As such many of the key archetypal elements, regarding the relationship between the human soul and the mechanical ‘soul’ are there, and one can see them endlessly repeated in many later works of science fiction.
Fritz Laing’s celebrated 1920’s classic “Metropolis” is a retelling of the Frankenstein story. Now the monster has become the whole of technological civilization itself, and the humanoid monster-robot, is more like the Red Ridinghood wolf, disguising itself in a pleasing form. There is something prophetic about good science fiction, which is natural to the subject matter, liberated as it is from the restrictions and rules of the here and now. Since our collective crossing of the Threshold, at the end of the 19th century, (2) we no longer look back to our archetypal beginnings and the time before our lost innocence, but to a future time, when our experience will teach us how to reunite that which has become divided and lifeless.
The best science-fiction stories have a strong counter intuitive element, in which time begins to become pliable. It no longer strictly obeys the usual linear form, running from past to future but begins to ‘shift around’. The hero or heroine must now begin to master time itself if he/she is to succeed in the quest.
Louis Carol’s “Alice” stories owe their genius not to the consistency of the storylines, indeed they barely have any, but to his brilliant fusion of logic and nonsense. It is a foretaste of the changing world condition, in which our minds, now having mastered black and white logic must once again begin to operate beyond the threshold of purely sense-based thinking. It takes all the running that Alice can do simply to stay on the same spot. As she protests to the Red Queen that in her own country, running usually allows you to get somewhere she gets the contemptuous answer “What a slow country that must be!” In the looking glass world it is the country which moves, not the people.
Alice enters the Looking Glass World
Alice dutifully tries to follow the rules of the strange world in which she finds herself, until she finally realises that it has no rules. The ‘rules’ it does have are only a distorted reverse image of her own attempt to make sense of things. Once she is no longer prepared to accept the charade she wakes up.
In the real world many of us are in a similar situation to Alice. For those who have taken their first baby-steps on the inner journey to self-knowledge what passes for sense in the world seems increasingly mad. Our institutions and traditions have gone beyond the human scale and appear increasingly irrational in their conclusions. We live increasingly in a world where direct human perception is disregarded in favour of the perceptions and observations of our machinery, where politicians can contradict themselves from one day to the next and still claim to be rational.
We are increasingly squeezed between two, (and only two are allowed!) interchangeable points of view. Alice’s liberation comes when she gives up trying to understand and wakes up. By the same token, the significance of the deed of Christ is that it enables us to recognise that our own personal “I AM” (the essential self) is Eternal, and exists simultaneously on both sides of the great life and death divide. As the Buddha says, only that which is eternal is unaffected by death. To invest permanence in anything other than ones own essential reality is to live in a dream world. Beholding change is part of the very fabric of the Eternal and of Life. To try and hang onto the form is already to have died.
There is, of course, a difference between knowing the path and walking it. We have a long journey ahead of us. On one occasion* Rudolf Steiner talked about two stages of waking; (3) waking from the self-contained dream world of ordinary sleep into the waking world is the first. The second is the recognition that in the waking world, with our common and shared perception of nature, where we are able to navigate our physical bodies in relation to each other and in relation to the outer forms of the other kingdoms of nature, we are essentially asleep in everything else. Waking from this world, means beholding something of the reality of the other in oneself. When we begin to do this, and millions of people are beginning to do this, then the rules begin to change. Cause and effect no longer operate according to the same iron clad certainty but become more interchangeable. Do I cause what comes to me from the outer world to take the form it does because of what I bring to it from within? How many times do I have to go through the same routines before I begin to wake up!
The Matrix is a very subversive film, which has a strong appeal for young people. It manages to take the subject of virtual reality and the increasing dominance of the computer culture and infuse it with a strong esoteric Christian message, which is completely free of the trappings of churchianity. (4) Whether its writer-directors, the Wachowski brothers, were fully aware of all of the symbolism in their work is not the issue, although to give them credit, many of the layers of meaning are intentionally crafted.
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.” MORPHEUS
The film is set in the future, some 200 years after the incarnation of the first artificially created self-conscious being. (Referred to in the film as “AI” or Artificial Intelligence and corresponding to the being Rudolf Steiner describes as Ahriman.). (5) It deals with the consequences of this 'creation’, which, in the film’s time-frame, happened sometime in the early part of the 21st century, whereby humanity has become completely enslaved and unable to distinguish anymore the difference between the real world and the artificial world. When the young hero NEO is finally woken up by his guides MORPHEUS and TRINITY the truth is hard to bear. He is helped by the ORACLE. She tells him only what he believes himself, namely that although MORPHEUS believes NEO is The ONE who will reawaken humanity, NEO has doubts about his own abilities. The ORACLE points above her door to the sign, which once stood over the door of the oracle at Delphi. “Know Thyself”. This is preceded by a little demonstration of reversed cause and effect. Upon entering the sanctuary of the ORACLE she tells NEO not to worry about the vase. He turns to look, and in so doing knocks the vase to the floor, thereby smashing it. When he moves to apologise she says “I told you not to worry” but with the rider, “what is really going to bake your noodle later is when you ask yourself whether you would have broken the vase if I had not told you about it.”
NEO is a man who does not believe in fate. He does not like to feel that he is not in control of his own destiny. It is this feeling, which first made him question the reality of the prison in which humanity happily slumbers. It is with some disquiet, therefore, that the ORACLE finally tells him that he is going to have to make a choice: MORPHEUS believes in him so strongly that he his going to sacrifice his life for NEO. In the one hand NEO will hold MORPHEUS life, in the other his own. One of these two is going to die. The choice is his.
The oracle at Delphi as it is today
This situation, that the ORACLE foretold does indeed come about, because of the betrayal of a fellow free human, CYPHER, who, having chosen the hard road of freedom has secretly done a deal with AI to be put back to sleep. Choosing the “bliss” of ignorance once more he has accepted that humanity has lost the war. Without this betrayal the prophesy cannot come about, for it is this which delivers MORHEUS into the hands of AGENT SMITH, one of the many anonymous faces of AI.
In order finally to win the war against humanity the artificial intelligence must storm the last human city ZION. To do this he must force MORPHEUS to give up the encryption keys to the city, to force from him what he would otherwise only give to those who are ready, namely passage to the world beyond the realm of sleep.
Back in the real world, TRINITY, now the ranking officer is prepared to kill the sleeping body of MORPHEUS, in order to thwart AI’s attempt to force his way over the threshold. At the last moment NEO stops her. He remembers the prophesy, given to him by the ORACLE, and decides to go back to face death. With the help of TRINITY he faces SMITH and rescues MORPHEUS. But in the process he has to fight AGENT SMITH. The two are near-evenly matched but there is still a small part of NEO which believes in the illusion of the artificial world, and so SMITH is finally able to kill him.
TRINITY was once given her own destiny prophesy by the ORACLE. She was told that she would fall in love with The One. She loves NEO and therefore he must be the One. If he is then he cannot die at the hands of an illusion. Her kiss is enough to remind him that he still exists and he awakens. It is her love, which carries him through. Now he knows what is real and what is not. Now he makes real what MORPHEUS once said to him, that when he is ready he won’t have to dodge the superior speed of his nemesis. As he is resurrected it is the AI characters that are running from him, for he now has the power to be truly creative.
Part of the genius of the Matrix is its correspondence with the indications given by Steiner concerning the nature of Christ’s Second Coming, that it is not in another outward physical form that we can expect him, but within the depths of our own selves, as we begin to awaken to the Christ within, and begin to ascend in our consciousness to the level which he already occupies. According to Steiner it is Ahriman who physically incarnates, as Anti-christ to entrap those who think that salvation lies outside of themselves. (6) For a long time NEO is also unable to believe fully in himself. NEO is not The Christ, he ‘only’ wakes up to the Christ within himself, and this is the great power of the film, for the illusionary world of the Matrix, where the ‘powerful’ are as manipulated as much as the powerless, is not some fantastical world, but our own every day world. In this way the film points to the fact that enlightenment is to be found within our own self, and as such it is very self-empowering. It is a call to a generation to begin to wake up.
(1) In contrast to this approach to scientific objectivity, which has now become the norm in the West, stands the more inclusive and holistic approach pioneered by Goethe, at the end of the 18th century. Without going into too much detail, Goethe’s scientific method requires a schooling of inner human faculties by which the inner impressions made by phenomena become as much the object of study as the phenomena themselves. The resultant objective study of ones own inner impressive and reactive tendencies leads to a greater degree of personal self control and inner freedom, which becomes part and parcel of the process of unveiling the secrets of nature. In contrast, the more widely accepted approach to objectivity solves the ‘problem’ of personal subjectivity by training the ‘scientist’ to disregard their own responses and to exclude their own inner-self from the observation process. The result of this is the progressive development of a scientific culture in which the value of the individual point of view is diminished and in which the moral consequences of ‘discoveries’ are disregarded. This stands in full contrast to the more Goetheanistic approach, in which increased moral and personal understanding are the prerequisites to discovery.
(2) Rudolf Steiner gives the picture that since the late 18th century humanities evolutionary direction has become one of a gradual re-integration with the spirtual worlds. This stands in contrast to all of previous human history, which has been characterized by a gradual integration with matter and a clouding over of our ability to perceive spiritual realities. Whilst our original decent happened without our conscious participation, it is essential that our re-ascent is done in full consciousness and with increasing self-responsibility. For those new to such ideas it should be said that Steiner never wished anything he said to be uncritically accepted, but urged all who heard him to test the veracity of what he said for themselves. In the spirit of this article the whole of Steiner’s cosmology can itself be regarded as a vast ‘science-fiction’ story, if that will help the reader come to terms with its sometimes fantastic assertions. For my own part, I have found this cosmology to be far more consistent in making comprehensible the facts of existence than any of the alternative cosmologies with which I am acquainted, including that of modern materialistic science.
(3) Awakening to Community. A series of ten lectures given in Stuttgart and Dornach, between January 23 and March 4, 1923. The sixth lecture, given in Stuttgart on 27th February contains the reference, and is particularly recommended.
(4) Re: ‘Churchianity’. Acknowledgement for this marvelous phrase goes to Alan Swindell, and is culled from his novel “Crossing the Line”.
(5) In the cosmology narrated by Rudolf Steiner this being corresponds to the being he calls Ahriman, after the Zoroastrian god of material darkness, who stands in contrast to the god of light, Ahura Mazdao. The nature of this highly intelligent, but utterly amoral being is described and elaborated in many of Steiner’s lectures and books.
(6) There is an irony here, which should not be lost, for the very danger of the Anti-christ lies in the fact that many people will be looking for a repeat appearance of Christ in the physical world. They will be looking for a Caesar to solve their problems for them. Only those increasing numbers of human souls who begin to “wake up” and experience that the physical world is part and parcel of the spiritual world, will be capable of creative, transformative deeds.