Psycho-Spiritual Evolution


~ Beyond the Predator Archetype


Fire Rainbow*





Dharmagaian Evolution 

Becoming Fit for Evolution

Lessons from the Dharma

Lessons from Depth Psychology – Seeing in the Dark

The Predator: De-Colonizing Our Psyches


Liberating the Shadow

The Predator vs. the Conscience of the Whole

Group Process: Evolving Collective Intelligence

Conclusion:  Metamorphosis of the Gods?



A mood of universal destruction and renewal...has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a "metamorphosis of the gods," of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious human within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.... So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of the modern human. — Carl Gustav Jung



It seems to me that we've all got to strive toward consciousness. And it's not any longer about being subject to father-patriarchy or mother-matriarchy. It's about finding ourselves and taking responsibility for ourselves as mature, grown-up human beings. That's what I think this big transition is about. We're moving out of being children and adolescents, and we're being forced into the responsibility of making mature decisions – or we're not going to survive as a planet. — Marion Woodman, “Taming Patriarchy: The Emergence of the Black Goddess”



When 'The End' seems near, it's the mythic sense, the eternal roots, and creative imagination that are missing. Behind the 'ecological crisis' and the 'war on terror,' there lies a crisis of meaning and a loss of the sense of the sacred in the immediate pulse of the world. The blind exploitation of the earth follows upon lost connections to the realm of nature, as if humanity has broken a secret bond with Great Nature and become estranged from 'inner nature' as well.Michael Meade 



Dharmagaian Evolution


How are humans going to be able to make the Great Turning from the unsustainable and destructive industrial growth society to a life-affirming and ecologically sustainable way of life on Planet Earth?


That is the concern of many Dharmagaians, and of this website. It is increasingly common to hear people talk about the evolution of consciousness, a shift in consciousness, cultural evolution, cultural change, etc., as a necessity if the human species is to survive the crises of this century. (Many who take a systems view of this subject are represented in the links pages on this site.)  Among the numerous books and websites dedicated to conscious evolution and shifting the paradigm, nearly all of them encourage hope that we can adjust to the realities of this century by creating sustainable communities.


Not often stated in these discussions is the fear that if we do not collectively evolve our consciousness and our culture, and create sustainable communities, the disintegration of industrial civilization will evoke the worst aspects of human nature.  Darker scenarios of the future seem to have two assumptions in common: 1) that as economic contraction and ecological disintegration make survival the main issue, the reptilian brain will assert itself in conflict and violence at the expense of civilized, compassionate values and norms; and 2) the resulting chaos will further degrade the biosphere, our planetary life support system, and could lead to a dark age from which humanity may never recover.  These are the main fears, I believe, behind the concern that humanity may not survive the collapse of industrial civilization and of our ecological support systems (which are already severely stressed by climate change and overexploitation). 

The hope is that humans can consciously evolve beyond the reptilian brain’s default responses to danger.  The evolution of consciousness and culture would be the creative response of an integrated human brain – the neocortex working with the limbic system and the reptilian brain – to threats to our survival.  The neocortex is where our capacities to foresee and plan for the future reside. (See Date a Brain for humor, or The Triune Brain for a more sober explanation.)


My own best hope is that future generations will establish what I call Dharmagaian tribes and communities. Dharmagaian communities would be composed of sane, reverent, mature human beings who have adapted to the limitations of their ecosystems, and who nurture the flourishing of nonhuman life within those ecosystems in a spirit of appreciation, gratitude and respect.  Dharmagaian myths, stories and rituals would honor and celebrate the sacredness and interdependence of all Earthly life.  They would also include an understanding of why and how the unraveling of our present system came about, and how – through psycho-spiritual evolution – their ancestors developed the wisdom to re-establish right relationship with all beings. Whatever they choose to call themselves, Dharmagaian tribes and communities of the future would be the fruition of the evolution of consciousness and culture among people who seek and speak the truth, cherish and protect the Earth, and act responsibly on behalf of future generations of all sentient beings. 

I acknowledge that it will not be easy for these communities to evolve, establish and sustain themselves amidst political, ecological and climatic chaos.  In 2009, the odds appear to be stacked against such an endeavor, but I believe there are people – more than we think – who are capable of meeting this challenge. 

Since psycho-spiritual evolution has been central to my own life’s journey, and since it seems only fair to conclude this website with a Dharmagaian vision of a sustainable future, this essay offers my ideas about what it might take to realize that vision. 

First, a cursory definition of what I mean by ‘psycho-spiritual,’ which will be elaborated in detail in this essay.  The ‘psycho’ part refers to human psychology, specifically to depth psychology, which deals with matters of the human unconscious and the soul.  The ‘spiritual’ part refers to the cultivation of wisdom and compassion through training the mind. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, my primary teacher, said in Heart of the Buddha, “According to the Buddhadharma, spirituality means relating with the working basis of one’s existence, which is one’s state of mind.”  So mind training is the process of working with one’s state of mind in order to open it up to reality (dharma).

To put it in simple terms, psycho-spiritual evolution is the cultivation and integration of depth and vastness in the process of evolving consciousness: psychological depth and spiritual vastness.  Or we could call it the evolution of sustainable sanity – sanity that transcends the default responses of the reptilian brain and sustains conscious choice in the midst of stressful, frightening situations. 

This is not the popular notion of conscious evolution as linear ‘progress’ in a vertical direction.  It is not about climbing a ladder from Earth to Heaven, about ‘ascension’ or an ‘evolutionary leap.’  Rather, it is about ‘descent,’ about coming down to Earth and coming to terms with ecological realities and limitations.  It is about adapting to the mess we have made of planetary ecology and learning how to restore ecosystems so that they can support human life at a scale that enables Nature to regenerate.  This will have to be done without fossil fuels and will require ecological literacy.  (For more on ecological literacy, see Gaia Links.)

Although it is taboo to discuss such things, there are good reasons to believe that we are nearing ‘peak population.’ (See Population Links.)  Realistically, by a century from now, the Earth will be unable to support more than a fraction of the number of humans who currently populate it.  Therefore, I am exploring the kind of psycho-spiritual evolution that people may have to go through if they are to perpetuate our species during a planetary crisis of our own making.  This is a realistic guess of the kind of unglamorous, deeply humbling, yet soulful work that is ahead for anyone who is sincerely concerned about the continuation of the human species in the midst of the most uncertain, trying circumstances we have ever faced as a species.

To illustrate the difficulty facing us, the graph below shows the spike in human population (on the far right) since the industrial revolution, which was enabled by the use of fossil fuels.  (See Peak Oil for more on that.)  As Peter Goodchild explains in Peak Oil And The Century Of Famine cheap, abundant oil expanded the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, and the carrying capacity will contract inexorably as the availability of that nonrenewable resource declines.  In fact, carrying capacity has already begun to contract with the depletion of soil, water and biodiversity.  (See the Positive Disintegration section for more on depletion.)



Each dot running up the spike in the graph represents an individual human life span since the industrial revolution.  The dotted line running down the right side of the spike represents the decline in human numbers towards an unknown level of population stability (sustainability) as a result of the exhaustion of fossil fuels.  The rest of the graph places humans within geological and evolutionary time spans, or ‘deep time,’ which is the context within which Dharmagaians view these issues.


In addition to ecological literacy, psycho-spiritual evolution, as I define it, also requires psycho-spiritual literacy or fluency, which one gains by descending into the messy realities and humbling mysteries of the human unconscious.  Depth psychology, the provenance of psycho-spiritual literacy, is concerned with integration as a crucial step in the evolution of human consciousness – specifically, the integration of the dark side in human nature, and of other ways of knowing and perceiving than are cultivated and enforced in industrial society. 


Depth psychologists argue that the collective crises we are facing in the 21st century are manifestations of unconscious forces that have been split off and repressed in our civilization.  Unhealthy, fragmented psychic structures manifest in unhealthy, unsustainable social structures, and these are now beginning to unravel.  If humans are to survive this century, it is likely that we will have to come to terms with our collective and personal unconsciousness – particularly our proclivity for self-deception and delusion, cruelty, injustice and predatory behavior.  In other words, we will have to wake up and deal with the consequences of our unconsciousness.


One of the foremost areas of unconsciousness, or lack of awareness, is with regard to the biases built into our inherited Western worldview.

Dharmagaians argue that those biases, and our blindness to them, have created the crises that are making psycho-spiritual evolution necessary.  An indispensible task on our psycho-spiritual evolutionary journey is to dismantle the dysfunctional psychic structures implanted by our culture.  Mainstream Western infotainment media and government propaganda keep people in a cultural trance, a state of delusional semi-consciousness, and this trance is one of the primary obstacles to human sanity and survival, not to mention evolution.  This is discussed at greater length further on in this essay and on the Deep Ecology, Paradigm Change, Ecopsychology and Dark Side pages. 


However, in order to establish Dharmagaian communities, we must necessarily take our personal evolution and healing to another level: the collective level.  This involves lateral learning, learning from and with peers, as well as from and about the human and nonhuman ‘others’ that have been excluded and marginalized by Western civilization.  This is about learning in groups as equals and transcending the habitual cultural tendency to perceive the world dualistically and arrange it hierarchically.  I believe the survival of sane human beings in this century depends upon our ability to co-evolve with each other, which is addressed in Group Process below.


The psychologist Erich Fromm said, “In times of change, learners will inherit the Earth.”  We are in a time of accelerating change, and we are in a steep learning curve.  For humans, the ability to learn is the key to becoming fit for evolution.  It requires sober, intentional work amidst change and insecurity, which is not particularly ego gratifying.  But that doesn’t mean it is without satisfaction or enjoyment, for this learning initiates a meaningful journey that has the potential to redeem and renew our species and our planet.



Becoming Fit for Evolution


If it is true that the human species must evolve in order to survive the crises it has

created, what do we need to learn?  First of all, we can take a lesson from the other species that share Planet Earth, the majority of which evolved tens of millions of years before humans appeared. Many of those species have not changed significantly for millions of years, despite changes in the Earth’s conditions, yet they have remained sustainable through adaptation.  Those existing today learned long ago to pay attention to ‘positive’ or ‘deviation amplifying' feedback from the environment, which told them they had to adapt or they would perish.  They became fit for evolution by fitting in with the myriad other species and the demands of their environments.  This is the true meaning of “the survival of the fittest.”  


In Teaching Sustainability: Whole Systems Learning, Molly Brown and Joanna Macy describe the way that open systems adapt and evolve sustainably:

Systems thinking is basic to understanding sustainability and implementing sustainable policies and practices. It reveals the general principles at work in all open systems, be they biological, ecological, or organizational.  The essential feature, which permits open systems both to maintain their form over time (homeostasis), and adapt to challenges by changing (evolution), is feedback. Alert to signals both from within and without, open systems monitor their own performance by matching it to their existing goals or values (acquired through previous learning). When a mismatch persists, the healthy system adapts by reorganizing its internal structure and goals.  Information flow is of paramount importance, therefore, to the health of any living system--or enterprise. Feedback from its component parts, and from the larger systems in which it operates, is essential to its long-term survival. When feedback is blocked or discounted, the system cannot meet its own changing needs or respond to a changing environment.

In other words, creatures, species and organizations that are fit for evolution are open systems that perceive and respond to challenging feedback by changing their internal structure (values and norms) and their goals.  A major obstacle to the evolution of the human species is the social conditioning that imposes the Western worldview throughout the industrialized world and upon the ‘developing’ world as well; for the unconscious, unexamined biases built into the Western worldview – which structure psyches, behaviors and institutions in the industrialized world – block feedback.  This is the main reason that industrial civilization has become dysfunctional and unsustainable. 


The values, norms and goals that Dharmagaians suggest for humans have to do with bringing ourselves into right relationship with Mother Earth and each other so that we can receive and respond accurately to feedback.  Human societies need to function as open systems if we are to survive and evolve, for we are receiving challenging feedback from every side.


In order to create communities that are open systems, civilized people need to unlearn feedback-blocking mechanisms, relearn things we have forgotten, and learn new ways of doing things.  For example, we need to relearn that human wellbeing is dependent upon a healthy planet (the larger living system), and to respect the limits imposed by Nature on the growth of our population and our consumption of natural resources.  And we need to regain our sense of sacredness and belonging within the Earth’s web of life and the cosmos, and relearn to co-create with Nature instead of waging war upon her.  We also need to learn new ways to work cooperatively with each other in order to create sustainable communities for the sake of future generations.  (Learning resources for all of this are offered throughout this website, and particularly in the Gaia section.)


What will determine whether we learn the lessons that will enable our species to evolve and survive the crises that we have created?  The most relevant lessons I have taken on this subject come from the Buddhadharma, Deep Ecology, and Depth Psychology.



Lessons from the Dharma


Kalachakra Mandala (Wheel of Time)

The Buddhadharma is a psycho-spiritual evolutionary path that offers useful guidelines for our species at this time.  Spirituality in this tradition is about working with our own body and mind in a process called “mind training” in order to achieve sanity.  Sanity is being aligned with reality, the dharma, the laws of the natural world.  The human mind needs to be trained to open beyond belief to the space beyond concept.  In this way the mind becomes an ‘open system’ that allows the flow of energy, matter and information from reality to inform it.  This is how we free ourselves from delusion and become sustainable.


The late Jamgon Kongtrul III put it this way in Awakened Heart, Brilliant Mind:

From a Buddhist point of view, spirituality is basic and fundamental to all people without exception. Each person has the inherent potential to attain the highest possible sanity--the complete awakened mind. What is introduced through Buddhism is the means to recognize and experience this potential, no matter who we are. It is important to recognize that true spirituality can be assimilated into and permeate a culture, but on the other hand a particular set of customs and beliefs cannot become assimilated into what is spiritual. Since Buddhism addresses what is basically and fundamentally true of the phenomenal world and our own existence, it is not confined to a set of beliefs or customs designed for a particular group or locality.

Teachers of Buddhadharma are regarded as spokespeople for the phenomenal world, or reality, and their teachings are called ‘the dharma.’  Traditional dharma teachings offer relevant metaphors for what enables a person to learn – or what prevents a person from being able – to align herself or himself with reality.  It is up to the student to make him/herself a ‘worthy vessel’ for the truth that the teacher, or the feedback from reality, presents. It is a choice we make for ourselves, and nobody else can do it for us.


Traditionally, there are three conditions that prevent a human individual, or a society, from learning.  Unsuitable vessels for the teachings are those that are turned upside down (or have a lid or are already full), have holes in them, or are contaminated.  The ‘vessel’ is the mind of the student.  A worthy vessel is clean, turned right side up, has no leaks, and is therefore ready and open to receive and retain the unadulterated truth of the teachings or reality. 


An upside down vessel – such as a pot – is obviously not able to receive anything. If the vessel has holes in it, it will not be able to contain or retain the teachings. The third kind of vessel that is unable to receive the dharma is the contaminated pot.  If you pour something pure into it, the purity becomes polluted. A polluted mind can easily misconstrue the teachings, or feedback from the environment, and deceive itself into thinking it has the right response to signals.


Think of the contaminated pot as lined with an incrustation of old, decaying food.  It needs to be cleaned before pure, nourishing food is put into it.  In the Buddhadharma, this metaphor refers to the kinds of incrustations in people’s minds that prevent them from perceiving the truth or reality of a situation.  Incrustations include primitive beliefs about reality, ego attachments, conflicting emotions, and habitual, unexamined thought patterns. 


Dogmatic belief systems and ideologies are incrustations that block new perceptions, ideas and information.  The Euro-American worldview, for example, is based on outdated (19th century) science and false beliefs about the nature of reality.  (See Deep Ecology, Paradigm Change and Positive Disintegration.)  Unfortunately, most members of the societies that hold this obsolete worldview link their personal identity with it; thus their egos are attached to, and contaminated by, primitive beliefs about reality that block feedback.


Among other things, the Western industrial worldview contaminates people’s minds with a cultural hubris, the main obstacle to learning to live harmoniously and co-creatively with the natural world. We’ve been indoctrinated with many dualistic beliefs that separate us from other humans and the natural world:  beliefs about the superiority of our civilization, our country, our economic system, and of humans over other forms of life, and of certain humans over other humans.


Such beliefs prevent people from accurately perceiving the seriousness of the crises that our civilization has created, and from responding appropriately.  Perhaps the characteristic of industrialized humans that most distinguishes us from other animals is our astonishing capacity to block feedback.  This is one way to account for the denial, rationalization, and obfuscation that are common responses when people are confronted with the facts about peak oil, climate change, fatal flaws in our economic system, and the dire state of the planet. 


Again, the purpose here is to discern the conditions needed for humans to perceive and adapt to reality, and thereby find a footing from which to evolve in order to survive the crises we have created. The ability to accurately perceive and understand the messages coming from the phenomenal world is the essential condition that enables a person or a species to evolve in response to changes in the environment. We can neither adapt to reality nor evolve if we are in flight from reality.


Vessels capable of receiving the dharma – the truth of reality – are minds that, having been purified of pollution and obstruction, have become awake and ‘mindful.’  A mindful mind is able to pay attention and intuit the meaning of what it perceives.  It is a mind that is open (receptive), undistracted (retentive, able to remember, not leaky), fully present and aware – that is, wakeful (uncontaminated by illusions).  It is a mind that is able to think clearly and deeply and to receive the wisdom from within that connects intellect and intuition, which enables accurate responsiveness.


If that seems like too tall an order for ‘ordinary human beings,’ the 2,500-year tradition of Buddhadharma offers evidence to the contrary.  Buddhism affirms that ordinary human beings are capable of waking up and accurately perceiving and responding to reality.  The tradition consists of the teachings of countless people who have done so.  The core teaching of Buddhism is that the human mind possesses the inherent capacity to wake up, free itself from fixation and illusion, and become fully present.  Indeed, if that were not the case, humans would not have survived the changes on this planet that they have, and would not have established sustainable ways of life that lasted for thousands of years, which they have. 


However, civilized minds need to be trained to become open systems.  The capacity for wakefulness needs to be consciously cultivated – especially in such distracting cultures as Western consumer societies – because civilizations tend to produce cultural trances.  Cultural trances render their members unable to adapt to changing conditions in their environments, as Jared Diamond has shown with his research into the collapses of civilizations, particularly the tragedy of Easter Island.  Civilizations seem to turn open human systems (starting with children in early childhood) into closed systems that block feedback.  Our challenge at this time is to wake up from our cultural trance, perceive the reality of the converging crises, and respond in ways that enable us to create sustainable communities.


How do we wake up and become worthy vessels – open systems?   


Ancient contemplative traditions from the East and indigenous traditions from the Western Hemisphere have developed effective methods of purification precisely to enable people to be receptive to the messages coming from the encompassing cosmos – the dharma.  These methods include fasting, solitude, silence, and solitary and communal rituals that slow people down to Nature’s rhythms and require them to pay precise attention.  Some of these practices also induce altered states of consciousness that enable people to perceive realities that socially conditioned consciousness can’t perceive.  The ethnographic record is replete with examples. 


Many Westerners have taken up practices from these traditions in order to find relief from the tight little mental (left-brained) boxes that Western civilization has created for us, and to integrate mind and body.  Practices that integrate the right and left brains – commonly known as ‘alternative,’ ‘holistic’ and ‘shamanic’ practices for healing and wholeness – have flourished since the counterculture days of the 1960s.  Having engaged in many of these on my own healing journey, I can affirm their benefits. I have also found solo wilderness rites of passage to be especially effective.  (See Creating Space for Nature and My Bush Soul.)


However, in my experience, traditional Buddhist sitting meditation has been indispensible for cleansing the mind of cultural contamination and becoming a worthy vessel for the dharma – an open system.  Buddhist meditation, after all, is a practice of letting go of mental fixations in order to ‘see things as they are’ and ground oneself in reality – the here and now.  It is a tried-and-true process of unlearning cultural conditioning as well as of ‘taming the mind’ of knee-jerk reactions.  Meditation ‘puts a leash on the reptilian brain,’ in the phrase of eco-theologian Matthew Fox.  This occurs organically when we relax into silence and open space, and become present to ourselves moment by moment.  In my life, solitary cabin retreats – the longer, the better – have been the most powerful and effective means to cleanse and open the mind.


As the mind slows down and synchronizes with body and breath, the doors of perception open.  In fact, opening further and further to awareness, without mental reservations and blockages, is the essence of mindfulness meditation.  In the beginning stages of mind training, whatever we’ve been hiding from ourselves about ourselves spontaneously rises to consciousness.  Unbidden, our own darkness comes to light, which tends to arouse unpleasant feelings that are related to cultural conditioning, inherited beliefs, and personal ego fixations.  But continuing to sit and breathe through those uncomfortable, unwanted, embarrassing, fearsome feelings dissolves habitual emotional reactions and prejudices.

Ashe Windhorse
© Mark Szpakowski

As our self-protective barriers dissolve, the energy that has been locked up in mental evasion and repression becomes available for further clear seeing.  If we sit long enough, the mind naturally disabuses itself of personal and cultural illusions.  We see through ourselves.  We become more self-reflective, aware of our foibles and our dark side, and hence, more authentic and genuine as we become transparent to ourselves.  This natural sanity was the Buddha’s discovery when he withdrew from his culture. 


When a mind becomes an open system, it becomes more sensitive to connections and its awareness of interdependence (egolessness) expands.  It doesn’t block incoming information or the feelings evoked by that information.  The feelings are allowed to just be, and become integrated into awareness.  The circle of compassion expands outwards from a heart softened and humbled by the realization of its own vulnerability and the vulnerability of all sentient beings.


The Earth’s children, sentient beings, are not machines.  We are all vulnerable, sensitive life forms, subject to the three marks of existence – suffering, impermanence and egolessness/interdependence – as the Buddha taught.  Through our sensitive organs and senses, we take in energy, matter, and information.  Blocking feedback through defense mechanisms such as denial and self-deception does not make us safer, it puts us more at risk because it makes us less able to learn.  When a culture is an elaborate system for blocking feedback, as ours is, it makes people obtuse.


My teacher Chögyam Trungpa often told us that meditation makes us more intelligent.  Another way to say this is that training the mind to remain open and receptive dissolves the barriers preventing us from accurately receiving feedback, and from evolving further.  People who meditate tend to be inquisitive and to have a sense of humor because they don’t take themselves so seriously.  Mind training enables us to become more resilient, flexible, and able to recover from shocks.  Thus, it makes us fit for evolution – for fitting ourselves in with the rest of creation amidst changes in the environment.


For those who are interested in developing this capacity, see the Meditation section in Psycho-Spiritual Links.



Lessons from Depth Psychology– Seeing in the Dark


  :::Dharmagaians folders:Dharmagaians Illustrated:Photos DG:ATT00021

One of the reasons there is so much confusion and obtuseness in the world at this time of crisis, I believe, is resistance to (and fear of) acknowledging the Dark Side of our culture and our own nature. Western culture has conditioned us to believe absurdities: for example, the belief that our civilization is superior, exceptional and cannot collapse as others have; and the belief in the necessity of infinite economic and population growth (or ‘progress’) on a finite planet, and that “there is no alternative” to our economic system, as famously asserted by Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s Prime Minister.  This assertion was echoed with characteristic American hubris when George H.W. Bush or Dick Cheney (or both) declared that “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”


In the 18th century, Voltaire aptly observed, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  And indeed, our anthropocentric, imperialistic civilization has been committing atrocities for far too long – against the natural world, other species, indigenous people, and other innocent populations.  The accumulation of error and wrongdoing based on absurdities and lies is now manifesting as the crises of the 21st century, as described in the Positive Disintegration section.


Depth psychology is the study of the unconscious mind, ‘the dark side’ of the human psyche.  It arose as a field during – and partly in response to – the atrocities of the 20th century.  Carl Gustav Jung was particularly concerned about the phenomenon of “mass psychosis” that can and does occur when a whole population follows a psychopathic leader, such as Hitler, Stalin or Mao Tse Tung.  According to archetypal historian, astrologer and philosopher Richard Tarnas, “[T]he whole rationale for depth psychology, from Freud and Jung onward, [is] to become conscious of the unconscious, to release ourselves from the bondage of blind action, to explore and experience the hidden forces in the human psyche.”


What depth psychology, particularly Jungian archetypal psychology, has shown is that the dramas played out on the world stage are the outward manifestations of forces within our own psyches.  When those psychic forces become collectivized, they become overwhelming, like a black hole for autonomy and sanity.  Thus, until humans come to terms with our unconscious drives, we will continue to threaten our own survival and most of life on Earth.  Paul Levy tells us that “Jung was very conscious of the great danger facing humanity, and he realized it had to do with coming to terms with the darkness within ourselves. He realized that the great danger facing humanity was the ‘psychic danger’ of collective psychosis that resulted from disassociating from our own darkness.”


The concept of the ‘shadow’ that was introduced by Jung is now somewhat familiar to many people.   Jung distinguished between the personal shadow and the collective unconscious.  He recognized that the personal unconscious is the part of the unconscious that is unique to each individual.  It consists of unresolved issues, or complexes, from early childhood that have been repressed either willfully or unconsciously.  The personal shadow contains parts of ourselves – such as memories – that we find inferior, unacceptable, shameful, dangerous, or just too painful to acknowledge.  These aspects of ourselves become unconsciously split off from consciousness and projected onto other people – individuals, ethnic groups, races, genders, or nations. 


The collective unconscious consists of archetypes that are universal within humanity.  In An Introduction to Archetypal Astrology, Tarnas tells us,

Archetypes can be understood and described in many ways, and in fact much of the history of Western thought from Plato and Aristotle onward has been concerned with this very question. But for our present purposes, we can define an archetype as a universal principle or force that affects – impels, structures, permeates – the human psyche and human behavior on many levels. One can think of them as primordial instincts, as Freud did, or as transcendent first principles as Plato did, or as gods of the psyche as James Hillman does. Archetypes (for example, Venus or Mars) seem to have a transcendent, mythic quality, yet they also have very specific psychological expressions--as in the desire for love and the experience of beauty (Venus), or the impulse toward forceful activity and aggression (Mars). Moreover, archetypes seem to work from both within and without, for they can express themselves as impulses and images from the interior psyche, yet also as events and situations in the external world.


Jung thought of archetypes as the basic constituents of the human psyche, shared cross-culturally by all human beings, and he regarded them as universal expressions of a collective unconscious. . . .  To the exact extent that we are conscious of the archetypes, we can respond with greater autonomy and self-awareness.


Tarnas goes on to describe the planetary archetypes, how they express various archetypal energies and mythic figures, and the different names those have been given.


I think of archetypes of the collective unconscious as ways the human imagination identifies and personifies the different energies and patterns that exist both within ourselves and throughout the cosmos.  Humans have been dreaming up names, forms and explanations for these energies and patterns throughout history and probably at least since we acquired language. 


One of the most important things to realize and remain aware of is that collective archetypes have their dark side as well as their light side.  This becomes especially clear in the study of archetypal astrology, of which Tarnas is a contemporary master.  As he says,

All archetypes are Janus-faced, with positive and negative sides…. The same archetype can express itself benignly or destructively, in an exalted way or an ignoble way, and to a great extent which of these occurs will be affected by the kind of consciousness that is brought to the situation. The god needs to be honored, the archetype will manifest, but there is considerable latitude as to how that may happen.


The light side of each archetype is what we idealize and become seduced by; but if we are not aware of an archetype’s neurotic potential, we can find ourselves acting out the dark side, sabotaging ourselves and creating havoc. 


When we become conscious of the archetypes and their characteristics, we can identify when they are active and make a choice about how to relate with them.  Archetypes have their own rules, which are not necessarily in our best self-interest.  But we do not always have to play by their rules.  Working out our own relationship with the archetypes is one of the most fascinating challenges of human existence, and it is central to what I refer to as psycho-spiritual evolution.


When they remain unconscious, however, archetypes of the collective unconscious can be even darker and more dangerous than the personal shadow because they are collective.  For example, when an individual becomes ‘possessed’ and ‘inflated’ with an archetype, he is often charismatic and attracts attention.  If he gathers a following, he and his followers may think that he is a messenger of ‘God’ (or some other attractive archetype) and can do no wrong, an assumption which is of course mistaken.  This is a common psychopathology among preachers, politicians and other leaders, and even garden-variety patriarchal fathers and mothers.  ( See Are We Possessed? by Paul Levy for a description of the process, characteristics and symptoms of archetypal possession and inflation in individuals, groups and masses of people.) 


When a group or mass of people projects a collective archetype – say, a ‘savior’ archetype – onto a leader, they can, in effect, create a demagogue who will lead them to commit atrocities such as wars, mass suicide, or ecocide.  Western history is rife with examples of this, and Tarnas has done us the favor of providing an archetypal interpretation of this history in Cosmos and Psyche.  For a personal guide to working with archetypal energies in one’s own life, I recommend Caroline Casey’s Making the Gods Work for You.


Our problem as a collective is that we lack “psychospiritual literacy,” the term Alastair McIntosh uses to designate the perspective of depth psychology and its relevance to community life in his book Rekindling Community: Connecting People, Environment and Spirituality (2008).  This is literacy or fluency in symbols, patterns, archetypes and myths, which is conferred by the development of the mythopoetic imagination.  As McIntosh reminds us, “[T]he Latin word psyche derives from the Greek, psykhe, which means the soul, mind, spirit, breath, or life.”  However, he says,

Materialistic ideology has degraded this [meaning].  Its reductionism has spun the word ‘psychology’ into a diminished redefinition as the study of behaviour.  But that is merely behaviourism, cognitive or otherwise.  Such behaviourists should own up to their paucity of perspective rather than continue to colonise the etymological energy of a much richer epistemology.  I would define colonisation as the presumption of right to take that which has not been given.  We should therefore insist on decolonising psychology and restoring its meaning as the study of the soul.  (p. 55)


McIntosh defines the ‘triune basis’ of human community to be soil, soul and society:  community with the Earth, with Spirit, and with one another.  In most places within the industrialized world, we have lost the sense of belonging within community that is the basis for psycho-spiritual literacy.  In fact, belonging within community has been replaced by the soulless, alienating consumer/celebrity culture. 


Without psycho-spiritual literacy, people cannot recognize when archetypal inflation is occurring, nor that feeding (or enabling) the inflation can lead to the abuses of power in collective life that cause what McIntosh calls a “rupture in the fabric of reality.”  That is, when a group or mass of people projects their own power onto a person or an elite group, surrendering their critical intelligence and power of choice to those they perceive as 'gods' or authorities or saviors (parental figures), they feed the archetypal inflation of those projected upon. The abuses of power that often result can cause the population to become “unmoored from reality,” as Chris Hedges describes in America the Illiterate, and even be led into a state of collective psychosis. 


America, I believe, became unmoored from reality during the administration of George W. Bush because of a general lack of psycho-spiritual literacy. The majority of Americans seemed to go into a trance of naïve literal-mindedness that prevented them from seeing or challenging the lies and holding that administration accountable.  While the Bush II administration famously claimed that it was ‘creating its own reality,’ it proceeded to exacerbate all of the potential crises that have since become acute in the realms of economy, energy, ecology, climate, terrorism, social upheaval, and international instability.  However, the ‘shock and awe’ of the wreckage that administration left behind appears to have awoken at least some people from the trance.


Psycho-spiritual literacy enables us to ‘see in the dark’ – that is, see the dark side hidden within shimmering promises to deliver all our hearts desire – or to save us from what we most fear.  The dark side has great power to seduce and delude us until we gain enough psycho-spiritual literacy to see through bogus claims, promises, and outright lies.  Seeing in the dark provides a ‘bullshit detector’ that breaks the spell cast by the archetypes.  We become ‘allergic to the lie.’  A good bullshit detector is an essential psychological defense mechanism that neutralizes the power that archetypes can exert in our personal and collective lives.  But we only gain this literacy through confronting the darkness within ourselves and within our culture.  Any psycho-spiritual evolution worthy of the name must include psycho-spiritual literacy.


Zebras and their shadows  - This fascinating image of zebras (black and white like us) casting large, dark shadows on the Earth is worth contemplating from a psycho-spiritual perspective.


The Predator: De-Colonizing Our Psyches


Jung said, "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."  This is as true for societies and nations as it is for individuals.  And Western civilization carries a large, dense, black shadow: the unacknowledged atrocities that this civilization has committed through abuses of collective power over the centuries.  We – the citizens of imperialistic colonizing societies – also carry the shadow of those societies. This cultural shadow appears to be another, almost autonomous, level of unconsciousness that falls between and overlaps the personal and collective unconscious. Jung also said, "The unexamined contents of the shadow become our outward fate."  The unexamined contents of our cultural shadow, I believe, are congealing into the fate we are facing in the converging crises of the 21st century.


In chapter two of Women Who Run with the Wolves (Ballantine, 1992), Clarissa Pinkola Estés discusses at length the archetype of the “natural predator of the psyche,” personified in the Bluebeard fairytale.  The natural predator is one of many “beings” in the collective unconscious that populate the psyches of all individuals.  But, she warns us, this entity in particular is “the most deceitful and most powerful fugitive in the psyche,” and it “requires our immediate consciousness and containment.”


Although the natural predator appears very seductive, it is actually a “derisive and murderous antagonist” that opposes nature, creativity, and the evolution of consciousness.  It is a “malignant force” that preys upon gullible, naïve and “instinct injured” individuals and societies.  It wants superiority and power over others, and gains it through deception and mesmerism.  Its “sole assignment is to attempt to turn all crossroads into closed roads” – in other words, to deprive us of choice by casting a spell, putting us into a trance, making us believe “there is no alternative.”


After describing the destructive role of the predator in women’s lives, Estés tells us:

Each group and culture appears to also have its own natural psychic predator, and we see from history that there are eras in cultures during which the predator is identified with and allowed absolute sovereignty until the people who believe otherwise become a tide. . . .  In a culture where the predator rules, all new life needing to be born, all old life needing to be gone, is unable to move and the soul-lives of its citizenry are frozen with both fear and spiritual famine.

Recognizing the predator archetype in America’s cultural shadow during the 2004 ‘re-selection’ of GW Bush, I was inspired to re-read Estés and wrote Demons in Our Midst: Facing the Tyrant Inside and Out for an online magazine.  In that article I outline Estés’ prescription for disempowering the predator.


Since then I have come to regard Western Civilization as a ‘predator culture,’ which I define this way:

Predator culture is a culture that is ruled by the predator archetype of the collective unconscious.  The predator archetype seeks to dominate others and works through seduction, deception and manipulation. When it operates through a culture, it behaves as dictatorship or imperialism, although it may maintain a pretense of democracy.  This archetype has the power to cast spells and put whole populations into a cultural trance while it wreaks overt and covert destruction. When the predator archetype gains sovereignty in a culture, human consciousness and creativity and the vitality of the natural world are vastly diminished. Exposing it by seeking and telling the truth of its activities is the only way to break its spell and disempower it.  The alternative is to wait until it destroys the culture.


I thank George W. Bush’s administration for making the characteristics of predator culture so obvious.  It isn’t that the predator archetype wasn’t operating within American politics and culture before GW Bush.  It was, but Bush & Co. made its traits unmistakable.  These are identifying features of predator cultures:

Predator cultures permit, encourage and reward blatant lying, intentional deception, covert manipulation, the creation of illusions and misinformation, mesmerism, and all manner of corruption of the human spirit and instincts – including greed, fraud, cruelty, torture, and taking pleasure in deceiving, cheating, terrorizing and causing pain to others, which is often called “winning.”

Through deception and stealth, coercion and violence, predator culture takes what is not given and corrupts both individuals and the social fabric.  It steals people’s power and freedom to choose, enslaving them while empowering itself.  In this way, it becomes inflated with a heedless will to power and domination, as if believing it is invincible.  Its arrogant behavior is ultimately self-destructive, but on the way to its collapse, it wreaks irreparable damage upon society and the natural world.   The regime of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a vivid example of a predator culture that arose in reaction to being colonized by a predator culture. Possession by the predator archetype is indeed contagious.


There are other names that have been given to the sickness of the soul that is both expressed and engendered by predator culture – a sickness that has become pervasive with the influence of Western civilization, and became especially heightened during the Bush II administration. 


In The Madness Of George W. Bush:  A Reflection Of Our Collective Psychosis, Paul Levy calls it “Malignant Egophrenia” (ME disease or “Mad Emperor disease”).   Levy says,

Malignant egophrenia is an expression of, and is at the root of, the extreme polarization and dissociation in both the human psyche and the world process at large. The disease is archetypal in nature, which is to say that it has eternally re-created itself and played itself out over the course of history. We can even say that it’s the "bug" in the system that has in-formed and given shape to all of the conflict and disharmony of human relationships. ME disease is as old as the human species. However, we’re now at the point in our evolution where we can finally recognize it, see it, give it a name, and diagnose it....

Malignant egophrenia is truly diabolical in nature and is what the ancient, indigenous cultures would call a "demon." We, as "civilized" people, have withdrawn our projection of Gods and demons from nature (which has therefore become "depsychized"). Jung said, "Even though nature is depsychized, the psychic conditions which breed demons are as actively at work as ever. The demons have not really disappeared but have merely taken on another form: they have become unconscious psychic forces."  Jung warned that a difficult task lay ahead of us after the mass insanity of the Second World War. He pointed out that after the "demons" abandoned the German people, these negative energies weren't banished. Jung elaborated by saying, "…the demons will seek a new victim. And that won't be difficult. Every man who loses his shadow, every nation that falls into self-righteousness, is their prey." Projecting the shadow literally opens the door for malignant egophrenia to take up residence in our being.

In an interview with Curtis White about his book The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature, White says,

I was reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and started thinking about the concept of the barbaric. Roman virtue was not all that different from the virtues of the barbarians: they were both willing to profit from violence, and they both thought that the only virtue was triumph. Winning. What we don’t quite understand is how faithful our culture has been to this idea of virtue over the last two thousand years. Virtue as violence with a skill set is still the leading source of national pride in our military, in our business leaders, in our athletes, and in our action movie heroes.  A truly new way to think about the causes of the destruction of the natural world is to see it as this ancient (if not primeval) tendency in Western culture to admire survival through violence.  If we allowed the arts, philosophy and religion to play an equal role with science and technology, we would understand the relationship between capitalism, the dehumanization of work, and the destruction of the earth.

What is interesting to me is the confluence between Levy’s psychological analysis and White’s cultural analysis.  Both of them refer to a one-sided literal-mindedness, an incapacity for self-reflection – which amounts to saying a lack of psycho-spiritual literacy – in Western culture.  Levy points out,

What the ancient people called demons, Jung calls autonomous complexes. These are split-off parts of the psyche that can compel one-sidedness, possess a person (or a nation), and seemingly develop an independent will and quasi-life of their own. Autonomous complexes can be likened to the rabies virus, which travels to the part of a person’s brain controlling the whole person.

Levy quotes Jung as saying, "… the inability to be anything but one-sided, is a sign of barbarism," thus concurring with White’s insight about Western culture. Levy also emphasizes the importance of naming the disease:

When we see a demon, we know its name. Naming it is exorcistic, as it dis-spells the demon's power over us. To name something is to symbolize it. The word "symbolic," which means that which unites, is the antidote and antonym to the word "diabolic," which means that which divides and separates.

I appreciate the names that Levy and White have given our cultural shadow – "malignant egophrenia" and the "barbaric heart" – for they expand and enrich my understanding of predator culture.  And there are yet other relevant names for the predatory nature of our cultural shadow.  Noam Chomsky calls the leading doctrine of foreign policy during the United States' period of global dominance the Mafia Principle” (‘I’ll protect you for a price, and if you don’t comply, you’ll get whacked’).  In The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism, Chomsky vividly describes the American empire (predator culture) using Edward Said's term 'culture of imperialism.' Chris Hedges calls the American predator culture the 'empire of illusion.' The title of economist James K. Galbraith’s book Predator State refers to the G.W. Bush administration’s economic policies, which undermined public institutions for private profit. William Kötke calls predator culture the "culture of looting."  Clarissa Pinkola Estés simply calls it the “overculture” in a September 2009 interview, which implies ‘overbearing culture.’  


All these names show a growing understanding of the dark side of our cultural inheritance. However, I still prefer the term ‘predator culture’ for the shadow of our Western, imperialistic culture, with its one-sided, inflated view of itself.  ‘Predator culture’ captures the dark side of our civilization’s pride in itself, its sense of entitlement to take what is not given from the Earth, from living human beings and from the future of all beings.  So that is the term I will use throughout the rest of this essay.


Until 2008, I didn’t realize that the predator archetype in the European shadow had been revealed to Carl Jung himself.  Then I discovered depth psychologists Helene Shulman Lorenz and Mary Watkins, who tell this story in Individuation, Seeing-through, and Liberation:  Depth Psychology and Colonialism:


In 1925, at the age of 50, Jung visited the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.  According to Jung (1961), Ochwiay Biano, the chief, shared that his Pueblo people felt whites were "mad," uneasy and restless, always wanting something.  Jung inquired further about why he thought they were mad. The chief replied that white people say they think with their heads - a sign of illness in his tribe.  "Why of course," said Jung, "what do you think with?"  Ochwiay Biano indicated his heart.  Jung reported falling into a "long meditation," in which he grasped for the first time how deeply colonialism had affected his character and psyche.

In 1961, the year he died, Jung described how he had come to understand the predatory nature of the European shadow:


What we from our point of view call colonization, missions to the heathen, spread of civilization, etc., has another face--the face of a bird of prey seeking with cruel intentness for distant quarry--a face worthy of a race of pirates and highwaymen.  All the eagles and other predatory creatures that adorn our coats of arms seem to me apt psychological representatives of our true nature.


This insight was further elaborated forty years later by Lorenz and Watkins in “Individuation, Seeing-through, and Liberation” and in Silenced Knowings, Forgotten Springs:  Paths to Healing in the Wake of Colonialism, Part 1 and Part 2.  Speaking of Americans, Lorenz and Watkins say in “Silenced Knowings, Part 1”:


We have each been educated in a system that grew out of, and reflects, 500 years of colonialism, and are struggling for awareness in a new era of globalization that leaves increasing numbers of people hungry and disenfranchised. Our cultural legacy is profoundly imprinted by the often-silenced after-effects of the genocidal war against Native Americans, the dislocation and forced slavery of Africans in America, and the oppressive labor conditions of the poor.  But how do we carry these kinds of knowing inside ourselves and in our relations to others and the world? When the dictionary describes colonialism as "the practice or manner of things colonial," what does this mean personally, psychologically and culturally?  How has colonialism left its wounding imprint on our individual psyches, on the ways we imagine and interpret our life experiences? What are the paths to awareness and healing of these wounds?

To help readers explore these questions, Lorenz and Watkins provide small group experiential processes with instructions for facilitators at the end of part 2 of “Silenced Knowings.”  These processes are among the “psychologies of liberation” that the authors describe in their 2008 book Toward Psychologies Of Liberation, which draws on psychoanalysis, trauma studies, liberation arts, participatory research, and contemporary cultural work.  Indeed, as they point out, liberating and healing ourselves from the imprint of the predator culture of colonialism is a multidisciplinary endeavor.


My own healing path was guided and enriched by my studies of Buddhism, deep ecology, paradigm change, depth psychology, and the practice of meditation.  Along the way I engaged in many other liberating disciplines and processes.  Each was an integral part of an organic process of de-colonizing my psyche of the habitual thought patterns, beliefs and assumptions that I inherited from both family and culture. Deep ecology gives permission and encouragement to ask deeper and deeper questions about our cultural worldview and its effects on our psyches, relationships, and the natural world.  An understanding of the process of paradigm change provided an objective, big-picture perspective on my own process.  Decades of meditation practice gave me the grounding within myself to sort out my own values and perceptions from my social conditioning, and the courage to let go of much that no longer served my path. 


Unpacking the cultural shadow and ‘de-colonizing’ my psyche of the myths and assumptions of American culture was a process that provided a needed perspective on my family wounds, which of course carry the imprint of the cultural shadow.  Having a perspective on the cultural imprints within my family’s dysfunctions helped me to forgive my family as well as to individuate (leave the herd).  As Estés says, “While much psychology emphasizes the familial causes of angst in humans, the cultural component carries as much weight, for culture is the family of the family.”


Depth psychology endeavors to give people enough psycho-spiritual literacy to understand and overcome the inherited beliefs and inhibiting loyalties of our families and culture, and the courage (encouragement) to do so.  It does take courage to question what is taken for ‘normal’ in the predator culture of imperialistic countries, especially within the American military-industrial-consumer-prison complex.  There are often severe sanctions against simply questioning what family and culture take for granted. Each family and each culture has its signs and signals that tell us what is ‘off limits’ and that there are risks of punishment if we dare to even question what is behind the symbolic doors with the off-limits signs on them. 


How many times have we heard the bark and snarl of “How dare you question!”?  Bringing consciousness to what has been repressed breaks unspoken taboos and threatens one with shunning by, if not exile from, society and kin.  However, that is the risk one must take if one is seeking psycho-spiritual literacy, truth, wholeness, sacredness, the wellbeing of all life, and a sustainable future for humanity.


I have come to understand that the closed doors with their off-limits signs have been placed there by the predator archetype, which is opposed to consciousness and its further evolution.  Therefore, psycho-spiritual evolution depends upon liberating – revealing and relating with – whatever is hidden on the other side of those doors. Daring to question is an indispensable practice to initiate liberation and evolution for the individual and the collective.  Estés says, “Questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to swing open.”


The predator archetype is obsessed with domination: power over people and resources.  This is the mindset of colonialism and imperialism.  Predator culture colonizes our psyches with the ‘divide-and-conquer’ mentality, which causes us to perceive ourselves and the world in terms of dichotomies and hierarchies, the primary frames within the Western worldview that lead to rankism. When we perceive other people and other living beings in terms of either/or, up or down, in or out, better than or less than, we are thinking within the frames set by the predator culture.  When we don’t question the putative separations between spirit and matter, body and soul, psyche and culture, humans and animals, and culture and nature, we are necessarily seeing through the lenses and frames of our inherited worldview.  


This worldview and these habits of mind perpetuate the pernicious legacies of patriarchal authoritarianism – oppression, competition, exploitation, violence, degradation, disempowerment, and ecological destruction – that are still with us today.  For an inside view of the current, collective incarnation of the predator archetype, one need only read reports on the world’s most powerful cabal, the Bilderberg Group, which has met secretly amidst high security every year since 1954.  Research into the Bilderberg Group has revealed its deep and far-reaching influence on business and finance, global politics, war and peace, and control of the world's resources and its money – and that these elites are no less determined to control the world than they ever were. See Daniel Estulin's "True Story of The Bilderberg Group" And What They May Be Planning Now by Stephen Lendman  6/1/09, and The Bilderberg Plan for 2009: Remaking the Global Political Economy by Andrew G. Marshall 5/26/09.


Lorenz and Watkins describe the psychology of the predator archetype in this way, again in “Silenced Knowings, Part 1”:


The colonial self, profiting from the oppression of others, has created a view of others that justifies oppression.  The other is inferior, impulsive, underdeveloped, unable to abstract, superstitious.  The other needs colonial stewardship to contribute to their minimal survival. Colonial superiority, intelligence, disciplined work ethic, logical thought, resourcefulness, scientific thinking elevate the colonial self and justify control of the "cake." But this colonial self must also split-off its own inferior, underdeveloped, impulsive, and vulnerable aspects. This binary splitting, whereby one pole is lauded and the other degraded, falls into the psyches of both colonizer and colonized, creating caricatures of identity, and mis-readings of history.  Intelligence becomes severed from feeling, intuition, imagination.  Work becomes disassociated from spontaneity, vitality, generativity.

This ‘binary splitting’ has cast into the shadow a great deal that is of value to our lives and our world.   This, I believe, is the source of the “fear and spiritual famine” that beset the soul-lives of citizens “in a culture where the predator rules,” as Estés says.





Predator culture cuts us off from our inner knowing and feeling, causing us to fear finding out what we have lost, and also to fear daring to look for it.  But what is repressed are some of the most important aspects of our humanity: our capacities for deep feelings, mythopoetic imagination, soulfulness and empathy, which are connected to our instincts and our bullshit detector.  We are most susceptible to possession by the predator archetype when our instincts have been injured and/or disabled, which is exactly the effect of the predator culture.  We have become so afraid of feeling things deeply that, in our apathy, we can no longer perceive the meaning of what is happening to our selves and our world. 


As I have suggested throughout this essay, I do not believe our species will evolve sufficiently to establish a sustainable, life-affirming presence on this Earth unless we assimilate the darkness of the personal and collective unconscious.  In order to move forward, we appear in need of an initiation or rite of passage that will increase our capacity for psycho-spiritual literacy and soulfulness.  Thomas Moore in his wonderful, wise book Dark Nights of the Soul tells us that flight from the dark infantilizes our spirituality because dark nights of the soul are supposed to initiate us into spiritual adulthood.  Such a rite of passage opens us up to deep feelings as we confront inner and outer darkness – including deep feelings about the realities of loss, pain, destruction and mortality within our lives and the cosmos. Dharmagaians are increasingly interpreting our dark moment in history as a collective rite of passage for the human species. 


Estés tells us that awakening to the existence and danger of the predator archetype is an initiation into the “Life/Death/Life” mysteries that bring maturity and wisdom.  Life/Death/Life refers to the understanding of cycles, and that death is necessary for regeneration, new life, in both Nature and the psyche. She describes an initiation as “a psychic change from one level of knowing and behavior to another more mature or more energetic level of knowledge and action.”  It is an initiation into psychic depths, where insight into symbolic meaning resides.


This initiation requires that we actually take in and register the death and destruction caused by the predator while we’ve been in his thrall – the knowledge of which has been ‘off limits,’ and which Lorenz and Watkins refer to as ‘silenced knowings.’  This knowledge awakens feelings, instincts and intuitions that have been numbed and repressed in the predator culture, and this awakening cures us of the innocence and naïveté that prevent us from seeing things as they really are.


In Is the Modern Psyche Undergoing a Rite of Passage?, Richard Tarnas says that “What individuals and psychologists have long been doing has now become the collective responsibility of our culture: to make the unconscious conscious.” He focuses on the West, he says,

because it is the West that has brought forth the political, technological, intellectual, and spiritual currents that have been most decisive in constellating the contemporary world situation in all its problematic complexity. For better or worse, the character of the West has had a global impact, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Yet I also address the historical evolution of Western consciousness because, for most of us reading these words, this development represents our own tradition, our legacy, our ancestral cultural matrix. Attending carefully and critically to this tradition fulfills a certain responsibility to the past, to our ancestors, just as attempting to understand its deeper implications fulfills a responsibility to the future, to our children.

After reviewing the history of the lopsided evolution of consciousness in Western civilization, and noting the loss of initiation rites (and therefore the absence of psycho-spiritual literacy), Tarnas sums up our moment:

[T]he very absence of initiatory rites of passage in our culture appears to have effectively created a kind of closed container, a psychic pressure cooker, an alchemical vessel that is intensifying the archetypal energies into a collective morphic field of explosive power.  Perhaps the fact that our culture does not provide rituals of initiation is not simply a massive cultural error, but rather reflects and even impels the immersion of the entire culture in its own massive collective initiation. Perhaps we, as a civilization and a species, are undergoing a rite of passage of the most epochal and profound kind, acted out on the stage of history with, as it were, the cosmos itself as the tribal matrix of the initiatory drama.


I believe that humankind has entered into the most critical stages of a death-rebirth mystery. In retrospect it seems that the entire path of Western civilization has taken humankind and the planet on a trajectory of initiatory transformation, into a state of spiritual alienation, into an encounter with mortality on a global scale . . . an encounter with mortality that is no longer individual and personal but rather transpersonal, collective, planetary. . . .  It is a collective dark night of the soul, a deep separation from the community of being, from the cosmos itself. We are undergoing this rite of passage with virtually no guidance from wise elders because the wise elders are themselves caught up in the same crisis. . . .  It seems that we are all entering into something new, a new development, a crisis of accelerated maturation, a birth, and we cannot really know where it is headed.

But Tarnas doesn’t just leave us clueless.  He suggests that we can “participate in the transformative unfolding that would lead toward a more integral world” by recovering the ways of knowing that we have lost during the reign of the predator culture.  I quote him at length on this because I can’t say it with more eloquence:


We need to radically expand our ways of knowing, our epistemology. We need to move beyond the very narrow empiricism and rationalism that were characteristic of the Enlightenment and still dominate mainstream science today. We need to draw on – to use a single encompassing termthe wider epistemologies of the heart. We need ways of knowing that integrate the imagination, imaginal and archetypal insight, the intuition, the aesthetic sensibility, the revelatory or epiphanic capacity, the capacity for kinesthetic knowing, the capacity for empathic understanding, the capacity to open to the other, to listen. Indeed, a highly developed sense of empathy is critical if we are to overcome the subject-object barrier....


I believe we have a choice. . . .  We are beginning to see that we play a crucial role in the universe's unfolding by our own cognitive processes and choices, tied to our own psychological development. And thus our own inner work – our moral awareness and responsibility, our confrontation with our shadow, our integration of the masculine and feminine – plays a critical role in the universe that we can create.


Here depth psychology can serve the further development of that moral impulse. . . .  I believe that it will take a fundamental moment of remorse--and we know this is an essential element in the death-rebirth experience – a long moment of remorse, a sustained weeping and grief, a mourning. . . .  It will be a grief for that shadow and that unconsciousness concerning others that afflicts even the best of us, including our revered predecessors and teachers. It will take a fundamental metanoia, a self-overcoming, a radical sacrifice to make this transition. Sometimes when we speak about the emergence of a new paradigm and a new world view, we focus on the intellectual dimensions of this shift; these are indeed crucial. But I do not think we can minimize the central importance of the moral dimension for this great transformation to take place.


[I]t is a matter of experiencing, suffering through, the struggle of opposites within our consciousness. We must in a sense undergo a kind of crucifixion, become a vessel through which the consciousness of our era, and of the future, works out its contradictions, within our minds and spirits, our bodies and souls. . . . For I believe our task is to develop a moral and aesthetic imagination deep enough and wide enough to encompass the contradictions of our time and of our history, the tremendous loss and tragedy as well as greatness and nobility, an imagination capable of recognizing that where there is light there is shadow, that out of hubris and fall can come moral regeneration, out of suffering and death, resurrection and rebirth.

I would like to underline what Tarnas says by emphasizing the relationship between moral awareness and the capacity for deep feelings, especially the capacity to feel remorse and to mourn.  Our culture has very effectively suppressed our natural human capacity for deep feelings, which activate conscience.  In our death-denying, death-defying culture, we repress grief and despair – the ‘dark emotions’ – out of ego’s fear that our social persona and acceptability would be compromised if we ‘indulged’ in those emotions.  Our denial of these feelings plays a large part in our denial of the atrocities and the crises caused by the predator culture.  If we did not repress fear, grief and despair, we would not be able to deny the dangers we are facing as a species and a planet at this time.  

© Andrea Dezsö


I believe, with Tarnas and Octavio Paz, whom he quotes, that "the examination of conscience, and the remorse that accompanies it . . . is the single most powerful remedy against the ills of our civilization."  I experienced this during the mourning rituals that are conducted within the Council of All Beings, a deep ecological retreat designed by John Seed and Joanna Macy to create a safe container for deep feelings that are repressed in our culture.  The expression of these feelings can lead to a passionate commitment to action on behalf of our world.


Echoing Tarnas on our collective initiation, Albert Villoldo quotes the Inkan shaman elders of Peru, with whom he works, describing our time of initiation from a southern indigenous perspective:  


[T]his is a time of initiation, a time of initiation for humanity. . . . [T]hose who refuse to go through this great initiation are going to live increasingly chaotic lives. Those who do go through this initiation, where they face the death of the old and a resurrection into who they are becoming . . . will experience the bliss and the light of the fifth sun . . . of the radiant one.


[T]his is a time of tremendous testing, of personal testing for all of us, and . . . it’s a time where all that has resided in the realm of the shadow, in our own unhealed parts of ourselves, is rising to the surface and clamoring for attention. It . . . confronts us with that which remains unhealed within us.


[W]e’re in the middle of the initiation, we’re in the dark night of the soul, collectively, before the coming of the new dawn. And while it’s comforting knowing that the dawn is coming, you cannot sit back and channel surf until it gets here. It’s a time that requires an evaluation of all that we take for granted, a dismissing and clearing of dated belief structures that keep us in suffering, that keep us bound to scarcity and to violence towards ourselves and towards others.

There is no benefit for any of us in cursing the dark – or predator culture – unless we make a conscious effort to transform the psychic structures that have been conditioned into us as individuals, families and societies by millennia of predator culture.  This begins with recognizing the imprint of the predator in our psyches, families and societies, and the danger that imprint poses to our species and our world, the ecosphere.  This recognition activates our conscience, which gives us the motivation to replace that imprint, those structures, with healthy, creative, transparent structures and behaviors. 


Ironically, many of the characteristics that we deny in ourselves — that end up in the shadow – are not necessarily or inherently ‘bad.’ The problem with the contents of the shadow is that they manifest in perverse ways because they are split off and repressed – that is, disassociated and un-integrated and therefore dysfunctional.  This is our collective psychic wound. In order to be healed, it must be recognized.  Until we do that, we will continue to project onto others what we cannot acknowledge within ourselves, and will continue to both look for saviors and demonize others – either of which can lead to violence and warfare. Meanwhile, shadow elements will continue to haunt us, trying to get our attention with obsessive and compulsive behaviors.  As Villoldo says, “All that has resided in the realm of the shadow, in our own unhealed parts of ourselves, is rising to the surface and clamoring for attention.”



Liberating the Shadow



Ashe Windhorse © Mark Szpakowski

What a predator culture represses are the qualities and elements of the human spirit that oppose it – and that have value for psycho-spiritual evolution:  creativity, curiosity, inquisitiveness, imagination, spunkiness, feistiness, courage, insight, animistic sensitivity, natural intelligence – all kinds of unrealized talents and potentials.  Martin Prechtel, a shaman in the Mayan tradition, calls these qualities and energies ‘the natural indigenosity of the human spirit.’  This is what the predator culture has repressed in order to dominate the Earth and the humans who stood in its way – particularly the indigenous people.  (See Indigenous Wisdom.)


Although what we hide in the shadows of the psyche can be destructive when repressed, those very same aspects of ourselves that we are afraid to face – because they threaten our ego identities or are taboo in our social circles – can become allies when brought to consciousness.  In fact, those shadow parts of ourselves often contain healing powers and gifts when clarified in consciousness. 


In the United States it has become common for people to call those unhealed parts of themselves that clamor for attention ‘demons.’  We say, ‘My food addiction demon . . . ,’ or ‘My negativity and self-doubt demon. . . ,’ or ‘My demons are getting the better of me.’


Interestingly, help for liberating the shadow is available from the Buddhadharma in the form of a practice that was originated by an 11th century Tibetan woman and resurrected by a contemporary American woman, the dharma teacher Tsultrim Allione.  Allione calls the practice “Feeding Your Demons,”and says,

Isn't egocentricity, whether on a personal or collective level, the real demon? Fears, obsessions, addictions are all parts of ourselves that have become “demonic” by being split off, disowned, and battled against. When you try to flee from your demons, they pursue you. By struggling with them, you become weaker and may even succumb to them completely. . . . We need to recognize the futility of this struggle and begin to accept and even love those parts of ourselves.

To liberate the shadow we need to engage what Tarnas speaks of as “the capacity for empathic understanding, the capacity to open to the other, to listen.”  We ‘feed the demon’ – something that just won’t leave you alone – by sitting down, visualizing and formally dialoguing with a demon and asking what it wants and what it needs.  Then you visualize giving it what it needs until it is satisfied.  Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it takes repeated dialogues to gain insight into a particular demon’s demands.  But patient and sincere inquiry allows the demon to relax and transform into an ally – a new inner strength – that can help one to evolve further, and potentially contribute to collective evolution.


‘Feeding our demons’ is basically a process of fearless negotiation and generosity on a spiritual level.  This fearlessness can be cultivated in meditation when we learn to see through and past our fears by abiding with them, sitting through them, until we enter a grounded space of wellbeing.  In the space of wellbeing, we become confident and resilient enough to allow our shadows to come out of the closet and present their case.  One can easily see how this also applies to the process of relating and negotiating with the ‘terrorists’ – the dark ‘others’ in the world who have been marginalized and enraged by the predator culture.


In Meeting The Other Within  Paul Levy puts it this way:


What is happening within us, the microcosm, is a reflection of the same process that is happening collectively, in the macrocosm. Just like the dark other within ourselves is the very figure that can awaken us to a greater and more comprehensive state of being, the darkness that is playing out on the world stage can potentially activate the light of consciousness in our species, thus serving as a catalyst for collective evolution. Becoming intimately acquainted with the dark other within us empowers us to relate with and effectively deal with the darkness in the outer world.

This is exemplified by the work of Marshall Rosenberg, the originator of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), who has mediated in many of the most violent conflicts in the world.  Rosenberg has developed a process of compassionate communication that focuses on feelings and needs within oneself and within others.  And he identifies the source of conflict and violence to be the social conditioning we receive in what I am calling predator culture.  He says that “life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots”: 

Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.  I believe that life-alienating communication is rooted in views of human nature that have exerted their influence for several centuries.  These views stress humans’ innate evil and deficiency, and a need for education to control our inherently undesirable nature.  Such education often leaves us questioning whether there is something wrong with whatever feelings and needs we may be experiencing.  We learn early to cut ourselves off from what’s going on within ourselves.


Life-alienating communication both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.  It would be in the interest of kings, czars, nobles, and so forth that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slavelike in mentality.  The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves — to outside authorities — for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.  When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.

In other words, empathic or compassionate communication that focuses on feelings and needs within ourselves and within others is empowering.  We are empowered by recognizing and expressing our feelings and needs!  If we are willing to see the ‘dark other’ as an equal and allow it to express itself, the dark other comes out of hiding, ceases to oppose and sabotage us, and can become an ally, a partner.  It requires respect and trust rather than repression.  Developing trust is a lot easier said than done, of course, which is why training is necessary to truly practice nonviolent communication.  The training involves both inner work— to identify one’s own feelings and needs as well as to empathically intuit others’ feelings and needs — and group work in which people practice NCV with each other.  



The Predator vs. the Conscience of the Whole


But what about the predator archetype?  Can it be negotiated with and turned into an ally?  Will listening and empathic understanding work with the predator?  Dr. Estés advises against empathy or compassion in dealing with the predator archetype because it is seeking absolute power.  It wants to be equal or superior to God and Nature.  It covets everything for itself and cares nothing about the cost to others.  Since its modus operandi is deceit and trickery, it cannot be trusted.  It is very primitive and has no conscience. 


Although Estés doesn’t say so, I believe the predator archetype resides in the reptilian brain, the oldest part of the triune human brain, which predates the limbic or mammalian brain where empathy and compassion developed.  You can’t make friends with or tame a crocodile like you can a wolf.  The predator archetype is a pernicious form of egocentricity and a murderous antagonist.  If you give it any power, it will use it against you.  Once we are conscious of its presence and its nature, we cannot afford to give it mercy, forgive it or let it get away with anything.  Rather, Estés says, for our own sakes, we need to contain and dismantle it.


We counter and dismantle the predator with soulful truths – what Gandhi called satyagraha or truth force, which he used to counter and defeat British imperialism in India.  We disempower the predator by confronting it with the truth of what it’s done, what it’s taken, holding it accountable, turning our backs on it, refusing to play its game, and removing our energy from it.  We achieve justice not through revenge but through reclaiming the powers of insight and autonomy that the predator has stolen from us – our ‘silenced knowings.’  Then we use what we have learned from this initiation for visionary tasks in the world. 


The conviction I gained from my own dark night of the soul, which led to my study of predator culture, is that humans will continue to be susceptible to falling into the default mode of the predator (the reptilian brain) until we regain allegiance with the conscience of the whole.  This conscience cares for the whole of life and understands that the health and wellbeing of the larger living system of Earth transcends the concerns or consciences of human subsystems.   I believe that human sanity and sustainability in the coming centuries of challenge will depend upon honoring and adhering to this conscience, which we could also call the ecocentric conscience.

All human systems are subsystems of the whole, integral ecosphere of Earth, in which there are no divisions or partitions.  Predator culture manipulates the anthropocentric consciences of human subsystems by conjuring up enemies, keeping people in fear, and constantly reinforcing the perceived need to protect our families, clans, ethnic groups, social classes, religions, regions, and nations from threats by others.  By manipulating our inherited loyalties, predator culture divides and conquers us.


The conscience of the whole is what Joseph Chilton Pearce calls “the intelligence of the heart,” which is a transpersonal, universal, impersonal type of intelligence – the intelligence of the whole system.  He contrasts the intelligence of the heart with the individual intellect of the brain, and says that the success of the human is in the balance between the universal and the individual, the heart and the head.  All the problems in the world, he says, are the result of cutting the cerebral intellect off from the intelligence of the heart.


This echoes what Ochwiay Biano told Jung about why the Pueblo people thought white people were mad – because white people think with their heads and not with their hearts. The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert said the same thing: they know and think with their hearts, and think white people are crazy because we think with our heads.  It also echoes what Tarnas says about the need to draw upon “the wider epistemologies of the heart, . . . ways of knowing that integrate the imagination, imaginal and archetypal insight, the intuition, the aesthetic sensibility, . . . the capacity for empathic understanding,” etc. 


The conscience of the whole is what our indigenous ancestors honored with the intelligence of the heart.  This intelligence was repressed in Western predator culture during its centuries of persecuting our indigenous human spirit and those who embodied it, and this repression continues today in educational systems and other mainstream institutions.  The conscience of the whole was replaced by the fragmented, dualistic, hierarchical social conscience of our civilization.  Predator culture encourages us to forget that the interests of the subsystems – whether an individual, family, clan, tribe, corporation, nation or species – cannot be protected at the expense of the larger systems of which they are a part and upon which they depend.  Only when this is understood and assimilated collectively will humans stop treating parts of the fabric of life – such as other humans, other species and ecosystems – as if they are expendable.  Only then will we become sustainable members of the Earth community.


The good news is that, according to Pearce, an activated intelligence of the heart can change the brain’s structure, its alignment and integration.  He says that if we can bring intellect back into alignment with the intelligence of the heart, which is a biological intelligence, this will bring our relations with each other and with the Earth back into balance.  It is perhaps with the intuition of this possibility that group processes, in which people are encouraged to speak from the heart, are proliferating.



Group Process: Evolving Collective Intelligence


The transformation of human consciousness and culture towards allegiance with the conscience of the whole – an ecocentric ethic – will require what Joanna Macy calls a “holonic shift.”  In The Holonic Shift and How to Take Part in It, she says:

All living systems--be they organic like a cell or human body, or supra-organic like a society or ecosystem--are holons. That means they have a dual nature:  As both systems and subsystems, they are wholes in themselves and, simultaneously, integral parts of larger wholes. . . .


From the systems perspective, mind or consciousness arises by virtue of feedback loops that permit living systems to self-correct, adapt and evolve. Self-reflexive consciousness seems to emerge only at the level of humans and some other large-brained mammals. Here the system's internal complexity is so great that it can no longer meet its needs by trial and error. It needs to evolve another level of awareness in order to weigh different courses of action; it needs, in other words, to make choices. Decision-making brings about self-reflexivity.


Self-reflexive consciousness does not characterize the next holonic level, the level of social systems. . . . The locus of decision-making remains within the individual, susceptible to all the vagaries of what that individual considers to be of "self-interest". Yet might not survival pressures engender a collective level of self-interest in choice-making--in other words self-reflexivity on the next holonic level?


Fearful of fascism, we might reject any idea of collective consciousness. It is important, therefore, to remember that self-organization of open systems requires diversity of parts. A monolith of uniformity has no internal intelligence.  Healthy social systems require a plurality of views and the free circulation of information. The holonic shift does not sacrifice, but instead requires, the uniqueness of each part, the distinctiveness of its functioning and its perspective.


It would seem that such a holonic shift is necessary for our survival. Since Earth's carrying capacity is limited, and since the ecosystems supporting us are threatened with collapse, we must learn to think together in an integrated, synergistic fashion, rather than in fragmented and competitive ways. Present modes of collective decision-making, like the ballot-box or consensus circles, are simply too corruptible and too slow for the swift, responsive self-guidance that we as societies need now.

Macy suggests twelve attitudes and behaviors that can contribute to a holonic shift.  She has also pioneered many group processes that allow participants to practice these attitudes and behaviors.  She calls these processes the Work That Reconnects.  


But Macy isn’t the only one working in this direction.  There are many people who sense the importance and urgency of ‘changing the paradigm’ through collective processes that increase collective intelligence.  Those who interest me have been experimenting for decades with group processes based on the self-organization of living systems for this purpose.


The way I see it is that the pernicious social structures of predator culture will not change unless the psychic structures implanted and reinforced in us by the predator culture change.  At the same time, as social animals, the inner work of healing and changing our individual psychic structures can only take us so far until we heal our relational patterns and change our social structures.  And that occurs through learning ways to relate consciously with each other – ways that short-circuit the habitual patterns of predator culture and reset our immature default settings.  Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication practices go to the heart of the matter, but there are many other initiatives that contribute to increasing collective intelligence.


Many of these ‘new ways’ of relating to one another are actually old ways – they are the ways that humans deliberated and made decisions together before the predator culture traumatized and coerced us into patriarchal, authoritarian, hierarchical command-and-control structures that made us alienated, obtuse, cowardly and cruel.   


The old way of making collective decisions and setting a sustainable collective course was to sit down and listen to each other, allowing all our knowings and ways of knowing to be expressed and considered.  Before the predator culture of Western civilization colonized our psyches, we used to think with our hearts for the sake of our childrens’ childrens’ children, and even for the next seven generations.  We used to collectively think with our hearts and with the conscience of the whole, and that gave us a good bullshit detector, the best defense against the predator.  We still have those capacities, but they need to be regenerated and reinforced through practice.


Deep, empathic listening is how we recover the ‘other ways of knowing’ within our psyches that Tarnas describes.  We hear and align ourselves with the conscience of the whole through deep listening to our inner knowings and feelings, to other humans, and to the messages of the natural world.  The practice of listening is greatly enhanced by silencing the voice of the culture that invades our private homes through radio and television with its inane melodramas, propaganda and noxious commercials, and our public spaces through trance-inducing music, images and spoken messages aimed at promoting consumerism. When we let there be silence and listen, we give our psyches permission and space to allow silenced knowings and other ways of knowing to surface. 


As I said earlier in this essay, the practice of mindfulness meditation is an effective way to become an ‘open system’ that can receive feedback.  Thus, meditation becomes an open invitation for other ways of knowing and silenced knowings to arise in consciousness and expand awareness.  At the same time, it is also a way to self-reflectively ‘put a leash’ on the reptilian brain and the predator archetype.  This inner work prepares us to hear the voices of silenced knowings in other individuals and groups. Whether dialoguing with the inner ‘other’ or the outer ‘other,’ deep listening is the essential practice.  But just as it takes training and discipline for this to occur in meditation, it also takes training and discipline for it to occur in groups of people.


By some mysterious process, all over the world, people at the grassroots are seeking new forms and processes for reconnecting, deliberating about the future, and taking action.  Since we lack elders to guide us through this initiation, as Tarnas observed, and since global leaders have not prepared us for the converging crises, people have been turning to one another.


Paul Hawken has helpfully catalogued this unnamable grassroots movement, which focuses on social justice and ecological sustainability, in his book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World. He believes we are in the midst of a spontaneous, decentralized, world-changing emergence of activist groups that are responding organically to the recognition that environmental problems are social-justice problems, and he compares this gathering of forces to the human immune system.  It is as if this enormous citizens’ movement of thousands, if not millions, of groups is acting as the Earth’s immune system against tyranny and ecological destruction.


Within this larger movement is a spontaneous, decentralized movement that seeks methods to dialogue across the political, economic and cultural divisions that have been imposed by the predator culture. Dialogue is the way we learn from each other by listening, hearing, seeing and considering the 'other side.' It is the process by which we can overcome the one-sidedness of our social conditioning. The dialogue movement takes many forms, but they all share in common an increasing awareness that, collectively, we need to listen to the voices that have been marginalized or banished within our psyches and societies.


Ecopsychologist Craig Chalquist, in his review of Toward Psychologies of Liberation, writes, "A key ingredient in liberatory work is dialog: the invitation of all voices to the table. Psychologies of liberation create ‘public homeplaces’ where normally marginalized voices and visions can be shared safely in ongoing conversations that create community. These dialogs also foster the ‘critical consciousness’ to break through the internalized fatalisms of oppressive social conditions and begin to entertain a conscious desire for new ways to live humanely together. Such conversational enclaves also open spaces for practicing new roles that give the performer a regenerated sense of agency and personal efficacy."


Chalquist concludes this review with his vision of the book’s relevance:

  "I recommend this book not only to psychology practitioners, but to every reader who desires a look at how it's possible to discard customary frames of thinking and being, seeing and feeling deeper into a time of worldwide polarization and struggle against empire-era structures extending their inner and outer dominion even as they sink into irrelevance and entropy.


This statement contextualizes the rise of the movements for dialogue.  Even while the predator culture continues to impose its dualistic, polarizing structures on the world, movements at the grassroots are seeking to heal the divisions through truth telling in order to bring people together for the common good.  In doing so, they are reclaiming their power from the predator culture and revealing its 'irrelevance and entropy.'


Among people concerned with the evolution of humanity toward a healthier, more sustainable state than 500 years of predatory colonialism and 8,000 years of imperialistic civilizations have left us in, the practice of dialogue is recognized as a co-creative path forward.  Taking lessons from depth psychology, indigenous wisdom, Taoism, Buddhism, living systems theory, ecology, evolution, and the new cosmology, Dharmagaians in many fields and walks of life have been creating and exploring processes by which humans may co-evolve collective intelligence together.  These group processes hold the potential for a holonic shift in our species.


Many of these efforts involve relatively small-group, decentralized processes that work with the energies and issues that are brought by the people who show up.  An essential element is to create a safe container in which participants feel inspired to drop conditioned inhibitions and other habitual patterns, and speak the truth of their feelings, needs and insights.  Therefore, it is of great help to have an experienced and insightful facilitator – at least at the beginning, until the participants ‘get it’ enough to rotate facilitation for the benefit of the whole group.


In their excellent article on group process, We Can Survive But Can We Communicate?, Carolyn Baker and Sally Erickson explain the role of the facilitator:

There are principles that underlie effective group interaction. It helps immeasurably to have one or two strong facilitators present who are familiar with the inner terrain a group must travel to develop trust and to transcend differences. The process is rarely smooth.  Facilitators are different from what we generally think of as leaders.  Facilitators help the group, as a whole, move into shared wisdom.  This is very different from a group that accepts and follows the wisdom or philosophy of a charismatic leader or the dictates of an authoritarian leader.  Rather, this kind of community may be said to be "a group of leaders."  Each person is regarded as someone who brings a unique set of gifts, experiences, skills, and insights.  Strong facilitators help empower individuals to share those individual qualities for the greater good of the group.

The optimal condition for collective intelligence to emerge within group work is created when all participants have been practicing inner dialogue work, self-examination and self-questioning. This inner work brings enough awareness of personal shadows, assumptions, and hot buttons that participants can be relatively open, self-reflective, and non-reactive.  Individuals who do inner work tend to be more transparent and free of hidden agendas when doing group work, so that there is less need for experienced facilitators.The group can rotate facilitation among members when each focuses on co-creating the space for collective intelligence to emerge.


But even when a participant has a high level of self-awareness, it still takes practice in a group context to speak from the heart without calculation or fear of judgment. To create a safe container, participants need to make and maintain agreements about how they will conduct themselves. For example, these are agreements that have enabled circle practices that I've participated in to achieve a deeper level of group cohesiveness, awareness and intelligence:


  we regard one another respectfully as peers or colleagues, equal in value

  we speak in “I” messages, from our hearts and our own experience

  we endeavor to recognize, disclose and suspend our assumptions

  we listen, inquire and consider without judgment

  we do not interrupt or engage in ‘cross-talk‘ (do not challenge or debate each other)

  we maintain the confidentiality of what is said within the group

  we each take responsibility for the safety and well being of the whole group

  we are mindful not to dominate the dialogue or make ourselves the center of attention

  we do not try to use the group for personal therapy, but take responsibility for our own states of mind


When a group has established safety and trust among themselves, what emerges can then come from the open, spacious, egoless center of the group as an offering of insight and creativity for the benefit of the whole.  It is ‘work’ in the sense of practice.  It takes self-discipline and repeated experiences to build the capacity to listen and learn from others in a group context, self-reflectively and on the spot.


One innovative program that synthesizes several dialogical practices is The Art of Hosting:


The Art of Hosting and Convening Meaningful
 Conversations explores hosting as an individual and collective leadership practice. It is a practice retreat for all who aspire to discover new ways of working with others to create innovative and comprehensive solutions. We are a growing community of practitioners, supporting each other to explore and accomplish what we most care about. The challenges of these times call for collective intelligence. We must co-create the solutions we seek.  The Art of Hosting pattern and practice is based on our assumption that it is common sense to bring stakeholders together in conversation when you seek new solutions for the common good.  We believe that when human beings are invited to work together on what truly matters to them, they will take ownership and responsibility for moving their issues and ideas into wiser actions that last.

The basic practice for nurturing collective intelligence in groups is to sit in a circle among people we regard as equal in value for group work.  We see each others’ faces, listen to each others’ stories, insights and ideas, speak from the heart, and take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of the whole group.  These are the beginning steps towards restructuring social relations in non-hierarchical ways that open the space for the conscience of the whole to emerge.  (For more on group process, see Psycho-Spiritual Links.)



Conclusion: Metamorphosis of the Gods?


Is it going to take a metamorphosis of the gods for humanity to make a holonic shift in alignment with the conscience of the whole?  This is what C.G. Jung suggests in the quote at the beginning of this essay:

A mood of universal destruction and renewal...has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a "metamorphosis of the gods," of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious human within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.... So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of the modern human.

San & Moro: poster for Princess Mononoke

Until I saw Princess Mononoke, the Japanese animated feature film by Hayao Miyazaki, I was mystified by Jung’s statement. Although Princess Mononoke is set in medieval Japan, its dramatic story and mythopoetic images provide relevant archetypal insight into our moment in history and what a metamorphosis of the gods might look like.  Though I cannot claim to have comprehended what Jung meant by a “metamorphosis of the gods” or his statement that “the unconscious human within us … is changing,” I have gleaned the following clues from Princess Mononoke. 


The film opens with views of thickly forested mountains draped in clouds, with a narrative spoken slowly by a kindly male voice that sets the tone for the action in the film:

In ancient times the land lay covered in forests, where from ages long past dwelt the spirits of the gods.  Back then man and beast lived in harmony, but as time went by most of the great forests were destroyed.  Those that remained were guarded by gigantic beasts who owed their allegiance to the great Forest Spirit, for those were the days of gods and of demons. 


Ashitaka is the protagonist and the first character we meet.  He represents a peacemaker between humans and Nature.  His allegiance is with the conscience of the whole.  He doesn’t take sides and doesn’t give up on either humans or Nature.  He represents the indigenous human, to whom all life is sentient and interdependent.  He relates with all life forms as if they have feelings and are intelligent, and therefore must be honored and respected.  His best friend is his wise and trusty steed, a red elk, Yakkul.  Ashitaka speaks to and is understood by all creatures, and in his village he goes about barefooted, in contact with the Earth. 


His people, the Emishi, are the last remnants of their ethnic group, which is Caucasian and preceded the oriental Japanese.  They live secluded in the far East of Japan and practice the ‘old ways’ of shamanism, but are dying out due to isolation and repeated attacks by the imperial Japanese state, a predator culture.  The Emishi are warriors skilled in archery and sword fighting, whose guerrilla tactics kept the Japanese from taking them over for centuries. 


Ashitaka is a prince in his tribe and expected to become its leader.  However, when a demon monster threatens his village, he is forced to engage with it.  This demonic creature is huge, fierce, powerful, and determined.  Ashitaka implores the demon, very respectfully, to leave his village in peace, but it is not to be dissuaded.  It is full of disdainful hatred towards humans.  When its slimy, dark tentacles reach out and grab Ashitaka’s right arm, burning it, Ashitaka kills it with an arrow in its forehead (the third eye). 


The Wise Woman of the village arrives and bows to the dying demon that is revealed to be Nago, the former god of the wild boars, as its tentacles melt away from its body.  She promises him proper burial rites, but he tells the humans he wants them to suffer as he has suffered.  Later the Wise Woman does a divination with stones and sees that the boar god came from far to the West.  He was driven mad by a poison within him that consumed his heart and flesh.  This turned him into a demon monster full of hatred and rage.   She tells Ashitaka that the burn on his arm is a curse that will spread throughout his entire body, causing him great pain, and will eventually kill him.  There is no remedy.  He must leave the village. 


However, Wise Woman tells Ashitaka, although he cannot change his fate, he can rise to meet it.  She shows him an iron ball that was found in the boar’s body and was the cause of his pain and madness.  This iron ball turned him into a demon.  She says, “There is evil at work in the land to the West, Prince Ashitaka.  It’s your fate to go there and see what you can see with eyes unclouded by hate.  You may find a way to lift the curse.” 


So Ashitaka’s fate is to leave the tribe, rather than become its leader.  In leaving, he becomes ‘dead’ to them and can never return.  His quest is to go to the West in order to discover the cause of the poison that is inflaming hatred there.  He takes his clear-seeing eyes, free of hatred, to the outer world in order to understand and possibly dispel the curse that has befallen him.


All of this information is given within the first ten minutes of the film, and sets the stage for the action that follows in the next two hours.  This is the beginning of a harsh rite of passage for Ashitaka, an initiation into the realities of the predator archetypes waging war in the forests to the West.  As Clarissa Pinkola Estés has told us, awakening to the existence and danger of the predator archetype is an initiation into the “Life/Death/Life” mysteries that bring maturity and wisdom.


As Ashitaka travels West he meets different archetypal characters and the factions that are warring with each other: Samurai acting on behalf of the emperor and attacking villagers; Jigo, a government agent posing as a monk; the people of Irontown led by Lady Eboshi; San, the wolf girl, with the wolf god Moro and her two sons; the Kodama or ephemeral tree spirits who lead Ashitaka through the old-growth forest where ordinary humans fear to go; the boar and ape clans who, as well as the wolves, fight the humans to protect the forest; and the great, primordial, divine Forest Spirit. 


The Forest Spirit is a magical creature who changes form from day to night and back again at dawn.  During the day it is a large, elegant stag-like creature with many antlers, bird-like feet, and a kind face.  As he walks, flowers bloom in his footprints and then quickly wither and die.  He gives life and takes it away, heals wounds with a kiss, and also walks on water. 


At night the Spirit of the Forest transforms into the enormous, transparent Nightwalker, a towering god in humanoid form that appears to be made of stars.  It has a long, pointed face and fluid tentacles running down its back.  The tree spirits, the Kodama, gather in the tops of trees, twirling their heads and making clicking sounds to pay reverent homage to the Nightwalker as he strides across the mountains.


San is “Princess Mononoke.”  In the film, mononoke refers to the guardian spirits of the forest, so San is the princess of the guardian spirits.  She is human but was raised by the wise wolf god Moro and, like the wolves, she is a protector of the Spirit of the Forest.  She mediates between the competing interests of the different powerful ‘tribes’ or clans: the apes, boars, and wolves.  But she hates humans for destroying the forest habitat of all the wild creatures.  She is a fierce, feral, instinctual creature who does not fear death. 


San’s greatest enemy is the Lady Eboshi, a clever industrialist who has brought guns to the forest to kill off, with lethal force, the forest gods who resist the humans clearing the forest.  Eboshi is the leader of Irontown, which includes a fortress surrounding dwellings and a huge iron smelter.  Her dream is to clear-cut the forest to make it safe for humans to mine the ore.  The trees are the fuel for the iron smelter. Eboshi is the one who shot the ball of iron into Nago, the boar god, which turned him into a demon.  She also shot Moro, the wolf god and San’s ‘mother,’ who is now slowly dying.  However, Moro is not becoming a demon, she says, because she does not fear death. 


Lady Eboshi has other enemies besides the animal gods and their populous avenging clans of the forest.  The Samurai are also a threat to Irontown.  Eboshi has formed an uneasy alliance with Jigo, the government agent, who has made a deal with her:  his hunters will track the Forest Spirit so that she can shoot off its head.  If the Spirit of the Forest is killed, she thinks, then the forest gods will be defeated and she’ll be free to clear the forest for her people.  Jigo’s interest is in the gold that the Japanese emperor offered to anyone who would bring him the head of the Forest Spirit, which is reputed to grant eternal youth and immortality.  Eboshi doesn’t trust the trickster Jigo, but can’t kill the Forest Spirit without him, and Jigo can’t get its head without Eboshi and her gun. 


So there are three warring factions:  the animals and gods of the forest against humans; Lady Eboshi against the forest gods and animals, and against the imperial armies of Samurai; and the Samurai against human settlements that resist imperial authority, such as Irontown. 


The only characters in Princess Mononoke who are not at war are Ashitaka, Yakkul, and the Forest Spirit.  The Spirit of the Forest is a benign, primordial creature with the power of Life and Death inseparable.  He heals a fatal gunshot wound in Ashitaka’s chest, but doesn’t heal his curse.  Throughout the film, Ashitaka – who comes from a culture that lives in peace with Nature, and bows to Nature – keeps imploring, “Why can’t humans and the forest live in peace together?  Why can’t the fighting stop now?”


In answer, Moro, the wolf god, tells him, “The humans are gathering for the final battle.  The flames of their guns will burn us all.” 


In other words, the humans who are at war are possessed by the predator archetype that defies Nature and the gods.  Determined to dominate and get what they want at any cost, each human faction thinks its own cause is just and right.  At one point, Jigo expresses the conventional view in the predator culture:  “Look, everybody wants everything.  That’s the way the world is.  But I might actually get it.” 


The possibility that it might get everything it wants is what drives the natural predator of the psyche in humans. When the predator is in power in a society, it makes promises that we might get everything we want if we just do what it tells us. What the predator tells us to do, of course, is always immoral because it causes division and conflict, and violates the conscience of the whole. In the consumer culture created by predatory capitalism, the illusion that we can get everything we want is fed by media focus on glamorous movie, sports and corporate celebrities, who seem to get everything they want: beauty, romance, money and power. Thus the predator culture entrains the predator archetype in the collective unconscious and leads masses of people by the nose into the slaughter pen. In the Mononoke film, this what happens to the boars. 


The animal factions are instinctual nature fighting to live and preserve their natural habitat.  The animals are ‘natural predators,’ but they do not ‘want everything’ – they want only to live.  However, like the humans, the animals are protecting the interests of their subsystems, their clans, at the expense of the greater living system that includes humans.  Thus each warring faction has hatred for those who oppose it, and wishes to destroy its enemies.  None except Ashitaka sees the possibility for peace within an interdependent whole.  Only he can see with eyes unclouded by hatred.  


From an archetypal perspective, it is likely that ‘gods’ and ‘demons’ exist only in the collective unconscious of humans.  Whether animals perceive ‘gods’ in the way humans do is unlikely but unknowable.  However, we do know that humans project gods and demons onto powerful forces that we admire and/or fear within the human and natural worlds.  We’ve been doing it throughout human history.  We create ‘demons’ with hatred towards the gods/archetypes that we cannot acknowledge within ourselves and thus project onto others.  We create enemies in the outer world with the violence we do to those we perceive as embodiments of the demons that we ourselves project. 


It would be interesting to explore the relationship between the projection of god/demon archetypes and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Both phenomena seem to be common in predator cultures, but I leave the study of the relationship between them to professional psychologists.


In the Princess Mononoke film, when powerful animals are shot by

humans, the pain drives them mad and they become ‘demons’ seeking revenge.  When the Forest Spirit’s head is shot off by Eboshi in the midst of its transformation into the Nightwalker, its magical, transparent, starry body turns into a demonic, amorphous tar-like sludge that spreads and kills everything it touches as it seeks to find its head, its order-making intelligence.  Only humans can return the Forest Spirit’s head, and when Ashitaka and San return its head, Ashitaka’s curse is healed.  Ashitaka, the indigenous human, and San, the feral human, return to the god of Nature its intelligence, turning the demon back into a god.


However, as the Nightwalker stands up with its head on, the first rays of the rising sun hit it before it can transform back into its daytime manifestation as the Forest Spirit.  It collapses and falls head first into the lake next to Irontown.  Its enormous body falls across the town, destroying the fortress and its ironworks in a tremendous explosion of fire and wind that leaves nothing intact.  A short time later the mountains all around, which have been denuded by the demonic sludge, begin to turn green, with grasses, flowers and tree saplings sprouting up everywhere.


San laments, “Even if all the trees return, it won’t be his forest anymore.  The great Forest Spirit is dead now.”


Ashitaka responds, “Never!  He’s life itself.  He’s not dead, San, he’s here right now, trying to tell us something – that it’s time for both of us to live.”  He tells San, who cannot forgive humans for what they’ve done, to return to the regenerating forest with her two wolf brothers.  He will stay and help rebuild Irontown, but he and Yakkul will come to visit her as often as they can.  Like Ashitaka and San, Yakkul and the wolves are now friends and allies. 


What about the other humans?  


After Lady Eboshi blows the head off of the Forest Spirit and tosses it to Jigo, the head of the dying wolf god Moro, which has been detached by the sludge, flies to Eboshi and bites off her right arm.  To bite off Eboshi’s head was Moro’s dying wish, but she only manages to bite off her arm. 


Ashitaka carries Eboshi to an island in the forest pond that is safe from the sludge for the moment, where San awaits.  San wants to kill Eboshi, but Ashitaka tells her, “Your claim has been avenged.  Your mother saw to that.” The implication is that Eboshi has been redeemed by losing her arm to Moro. 


Eboshi’s men bring her across the lake on the shore of Irontown on a wooden raft and find other townspeople in the lake where they took refuge from the sludge that had inundated the town.  Many of the inhabitants of Irontown have been killed by the sludge, but those in the lake observe what happens to the Forest Spirit and to Irontown.  Watching the hills grow green, one of the men says, “Huh, I didn’t know Forest Spirit made flowers grow,” indicating how little ecological literacy these people had.


After Eboshi and her people are back on land, where greenery is fast taking over the ruins of Irontown, she says, “Amazing – the wolf and that crazy little wolf girl helped save us all. . . .  Ashitaka!  Can someone find him?  I need to thank him.  We’re going to start all over again.  This time we’ll build a better town.”


The suggestion is that now Eboshi and Irontown will have the clear-seeing, holistic wisdom of the indigenous Ashitaka to guide them in rebuilding a humbler human settlement that is more in harmony with the natural world.


As for Jigo, his inner predator seems also to have been chastened, if not defeated.  At the very end, Jigo gets the last human word:  “Well, I give up.  Can’t win against fools.” 


:::Dharmagaians folders:Dharmagaians Illustrated:Photos DG:Mh_synopsis_55.jpg But the very last word comes from a tiny Kodama, a tree spirit who appears in the regenerating forest, spins its head and makes the clicks that acknowledge the presence of the spirit of the forest.  The gods/demons of the boars, wolves and forest have died, Irontown (industrial civilization?) is destroyed, and yet humans remain and life on the land regenerates.


Is this something like what Jung foresaw as the ‘metamorphosis of the gods’?  Can the ‘unconscious human’ within us change enough – become conscious enough – to withdraw its projections of gods and demons?  Can we ‘rise to the occasion’ and honor Nature’s intelligence and our inseparability within it, thus healing the ‘curse’ within ourselves?  Can we become responsible enough to stop claiming that God – or ‘the gods,’ or the planets, or this or that archetype or trauma, or this boss, that general or emperor – ‘made me do it’?  Can we transcend our biological programming through consciousness?  Can we regain the conscience of the whole, the intelligence of the heart, the natural indigenosity of the human spirit, which will enable us to evolve beyond the predator archetype before it is too late?  Must humans create an ecological catastrophe before the predator in us is quelled? 


The predator archetype in humans does not acknowledge, much less honor, the sacredness of the interdependent web of life.  It does not bow to the powerful forces of life and death, but seeks to overpower them and destroy anything that resists its all-consuming will to power.   It is blind to the sacred spirits that permeate the natural world and enable Nature to regenerate. 


Instead of projecting ‘gods’ onto powerful forces and creatures, fighting them, and turning them into ‘demons,’ we need to respect and work with all the forces of Nature if we are to create sustainable communities.  For this to occur, we need to regain the conscience of the whole, as exemplified by Ashitaka.  Systems thinking and ecological literacy are as urgently needed as psycho-spiritual literacy, so that we are not beguiled by the predator archetype when it arises, nor by any of the other archetypes.  To collectively regain the conscience of the whole would truly be a metamorphosis of the gods.


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The Princess Mononoke film suggests we need the feelings, instincts and intuitions that have been numbed and repressed in the predator culture.  These are powers that still exist within the indigenous human within us all, and that enable us to see through the predator archetype’s tricks.  A non-dualistic, holistic, respectful, cooperative relationship with the life/death/life mysteries of human existence can be consciously cultivated, evolved, and practiced.  I believe this is how people will make it through the 21st century and establish Dharmagaian communities that will be a life-sustaining presence on the Earth in the centuries to come.


In the meantime, as my friend Stephanie says, “Let's do our best to keep the faith for the next seven generations, who will need a lot of spiritual wisdom to maintain sanity, given the destruction caused during our generation.”



See Psycho-Spiritual Links for more on the main topics in this essay, including links for Princess Mononoke. Animistic Soul, Dharmagaian Practices, Sustainable Communities and their links conclude this Dharmagaians website.



We have not understood yet that the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilization. — C.G. Jung

Meditation is the royal road to the unconscious. — C.G. Jung



If we don’t become our own authority on the inside, we will invariably create people on the outside to do it for us. — Caroline Casey, astrologer, on the Saturn archetype



When an old culture is dying, the new is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.Rudolf Bahro



You can think of the groundlessness and openness of insecurity as a chance that we're given over and over to choose a fresh alternative. Things happen to us all the time that open up the space. This spaciousness, this wide-open, unbiased, unprejudiced space is inexpressable and fundamentally good and sound. It's like the sky.

— Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War








*The fire rainbow at the top of this page is the rarest of all naturally occurring atmospheric phenomena. This picture was captured on the Idaho/Washington border.  The event lasted about 1 hour.  Clouds have to be cirrus, at least 20,000 feet in the air, with just the right amount of ice crystals, and the sun has to hit the clouds at precisely 58 degrees.  It seems a fitting image for the kairosthe right moment—for a "metamorphosis of the gods."



© 2009 Suzanne Duarte