“In so far as the archetypes do not represent mere functional relationships, they manifest themselves as daimones, as personal agencies. In this form they are felt as actual experiences and are not ‘figments of the imagination,’ as rationalism would have us believe.” – Carl Jung
“Surely you know that anything that exists, imagined itself into existence?” – Queen Sophie Ann, True Blood
Scrolling through the channels on my local cable network, I can catch T.V. shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time. If you have H.B.O., then you can add big budget productions like True Blood and Game of Thrones to the list. Zombies populate video-games and vampire novels like Twilight steals the hearts of teenagers. The Harry Potter books and movies have been a decade-long hit. Adding to that, Snow White and the Huntsman will soon be in theaters. What’s with all this interest and intrigue in folk-tales and the supernatural? First, a few words on the medium that folktales are returning in to us:
The Big Shift, Backwards?
No movie is mere entertainment. Behind each film, there are glimpses of subtle shifts and changes in a culture. Our own dreams, if we listen to them, can tell us much about what’s going on in our lives. Sometimes things we aren’t even aware of can pop up. The language of the imagination is a holistic “all at once” picture of our emotions, thoughts, feelings, reactions and aspirations. In the same way, movies and media are a collective imagination: a cultural dream.
As the mythologist John Ebert noted, when you step into a dark, cavernous theater, you’re entering a dream-like mode of experience. Doesn’t it feel a little surreal stepping out of the theater at the end of the movie? Walking to your car in the parking lot, your mind might be filled with images from this parallel world you just spent a good hour or two exploring. Your heart might be filled with emotions for the characters. Music from the film might be playing in your head. In other words, you have to “adjust” back to “reality.” The effect is amplified for me, personally, when I go to a matinee showing and have to adjust my eyes, stepping out from an artificial night-time back into the bright daylight.
Electronic technologies have “retrieved” the world of myth and magic for the modern person. So it’s not a far step to begin to see the denizens of this dream world as equally magical: fairies, vampires, supernatural stories and so forth have poured back into the modern mind through digital technologies. Since the Scientific Revolution, industrialization has slowly eliminated rural, agricultural societies and villages – along with their fairytales and folklore – and science has increasingly become the dispeller (note the magic language) of myths. The majority of the world’s population moved from rural to urban. Ironically, with electric mediums, magic and myth are able to piggyback into becoming the center of mass consciousness.
The prophetic media theorist Marshall McLuhan suggested that electronic media disrupt the neat, linear world of Western progress. They’re instantaneous, like a lightning bolt. While not fragmentary, electronic media potentially unite the world in a “global village.” What happens on one side of the planet can instantaneously reverberate across the planet, like some kind of giant Gaian nervous system. Gone are the days of the linear text. Sure, I still read, but blogs take up a huge portion of my time. They are punctuated with music, videos, and blinking messages from friends on Facebook.
We interface with luminous technologies, like the iPad or iPhone. As John Ebert suggests in New Media Invasion, these are analogous to the medieval illuminated manuscript.
But it hasn’t begun here. Ever since electricity began to be used for communication, like telegrams, it’s carried with it a revolutionary and Promethean spirit. It’s the other kind of fire, the lightning bolt, as Erik Davis suggests in his book TechGnosis. The crackling static of electricity and “white” noise has fascinated ghost hunters, who believe that the dead can contact us via “electronic voice phenomena.”
Whether or not it’s true, electronic media have played a key role in reversing the “Age of Enlightenment.” Texts have become hypertexts. Movies and T.V. have returned more mythical and image-based thinking. This Trojan Horse Electric has been triumphantly rolled into the city of Western society, but it has within its belly a plethora of magical and mythical beings. Through it, the materialist world is quietly being supplanted with a more dream-like realm of myth and supernatural creatures.
Naturally, the most common form of fairytales these days is science fiction. The genre legitimizes supernatural thinking through the veil of “techno-culture.” Magic is permissible this way. As the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser suggests in Ever-Present Origin, “machine” has its etymological roots in “magic,” “mana” and furthermore, to “make.” Technology has been used since the days of Greece and Rome, where temples would utilize various apparatus to make statues move and speak – a veritable ancient animatronic Disney World.
So if technology, “movie magic” and the imagination are all natural allies, it’s easier to see why fairy tales have made it to both television and the big screen. But what does all this mean? Why is there some kind of world-wide reversal? Why is myth and magic returning, ironically, through a medium that at first glance is antithetical to supernatural thinking?
A Loss of Soul, and the Daimonic Reality
Carl Jung used the term “enantiodromia” to explain this. That’s a fancy way of saying that “a thing becomes its opposite.” You push something far enough, and it turns inside out. At the turn of the last century, the scientific, modernist era was pushing the rational worldview to an extreme. Just when everything was figured out, Einstein relativized the Newtonian universe. Neils Bohr relativized the observer and observed. Surrealistic paintings at the time are a wonderful image of the linear, rational world “breaking down.” My favorite image is Dali’s Persistence of Memory, depicting a melting clock. In many ways, these breakthroughs in both science and art foreshadowed the electronic age.
But what is breaking through? It’s my belief that the return of a mythical and magical worldview is the eruption of older, shamanistic and animistic consciousness, long repressed by the modern, rational consciousness. It’s a cry for integration. Jean Gebser believed that our contemporary lifestyle and worldview constituted a “structure” of consciousness. But it was one of many. Ancient civilizations, like Medieval Europe, and indigenous societies, represented entirely different modes of being in the world. He designated these “structure of consciousness” as the archaic, magic, mythic, mental, and integral. These terms have since been popularized in Ken Wilber’s work and Integral Theory, but for this article I’ll be looking mainly at how Gebser used them.
Like Carl Jung’s theories on the Self, each “structure” of consciousness is like a piece of the psyche. The various ages have “fleshed” out dimensions of the Self, but the larger integration lies dormant, latent. The “archaic” consciousness is something like this latent Whole, out of which pieces grow and pass away. But each structure of consciousness does not disappear. It remains alive and well. Co-constituents of reality. In other words, the animistic/psychic world of our ancestors, a world chock-full of spirits and other planes of existence, doesn’t go away with the modern scientific worldview. It lives right alongside it, even within it. Science fiction is a terrific example of this phenomenon, whereby fairies and angels and gnomes can all come back in new garbs. In Star Trek, captain Kirk and his crew confront Greek Gods in space, while Captain Picard wrestles with the godlike Q, who exists in a dimension beyond time and space.
A major part of this mythic revival is the reversal of worldview. The old gods are re-asserting themselves. The Imagination of William Blake, or Carl Jung’s Psychic Reality are erupting back into modern consciousness. It’s my belief that these “eruptions” are common throughout history. The Romantic movement is one of the earlier examples, which was a reaction to the suppression of mythical and magical consciousness by the Scientific and Industrial Revolution. At the turn of the last century, however, this “eruption” intensified through the Surrealistic movement; new discoveries in science, such as with quantum physics; and later, the 60s psychedelic revolution. Art usually tells us what is out of balance, what needs to be integrated, and it also helps heal these psychic rifts and fragmentations of the psyche.
Now, a lot of this has to do with dropping our belief that the imagination is merely within the human skull. It also challenges us to leave behind our arrogance in believing that ancient societies were merely superstitious, projecting their childlike imagination onto the world.
Patrick Harpur, author of Daimonic Reality, claims that we’re currently experiencing a crisis of the soul. Over the centuries, the polytheistic and animistic worldview, the Anima Mundi, has been repressed, broken down, and downright abandoned. But in doing so, we’ve paid a high price. In a sense, we’ve lost our souls, that intermediary between the material world and the gods.
So what are daimons? In Timaeus, Plato describes an intermediary space between the One and the many, the Soul of the World. It also goes by the name Anima Mundi. Just as there’s a personal soul that mediates between body and spirit, there’s a macrocosmic World Soul that mediates between the physical world and the gods. In this sense, each individual is a fractal, microcosm of the macrocosm. As Harpur believes, the daimons were the messengers for the gods. They were the nymphs, fauns, elves, trolls, jinn and fairies. They were also considered guides. Socrates had a daimon that simply told him “no” whenever he was making a wrong decision in life. Jung himself had a daimon, Philemon, whom he claims appeared to him even in waking life.
In the Symposium, Plato writes that “everything that is daimonic is intermediate between god and mortal. Interpreting and conveying the wishes of men to Gods and the will of Gods to men, it stands between the two and fills the gap... God has no contact with men; only through the daimonic is there intercourse and conversation between men and Gods, whether in the waking state or during sleep.”
This “daimonic” reality of beings that are both real and unreal, physical and imaginary, has been rejected by modern sensibility. But it didn’t begin with materialism. Since Christianity, Harpur believes, we have literally demonized the daimons. Yet, daimons are quite clever, even tricky. They’re shape-shifters, taking on whatever form is appropriate for a culture or a time period. So they became Angels, those intermediary messengers between God and the world of time-space.
Perhaps the archetypal daimon for our age is Hermes. Also known as Mercury, he’s the divine messenger. The god of crossroads, borderlines, and liminal zones. In ancient times, the “herm” marked doorways and blessed the merchants. Be warned, however, for merchants are tricky. Hermes is the trickster par-excellence. According to Greek myth, Hermes is a thief; stealing cattle from the rational god, Apollo, and fooling him by oaths and contracts so as to elude being caught. Hermes is also the first song-writer, after killing a turtle and converting its shell to a lyre (a gift he uses to please Apollo).
As Erik Davis notes, however, Hermes is no thug – but a mastermind. In the internet age, Hermes appears to be re-asserting his presence like never before (perhaps hackers should leave a herm on their desktops). Moreover, the internet age perfectly embodies the trickery of Hermes, who communicates both wisdom and deception. Davis suggests that Hermes would approve of the internet. After all, it’s made in his image, sharing the same qualities: speed (winged ankles), profit, innovative interconnection, and most of all, the "overturning of established orders.”
Hermes is a challenge to his rival, Apollo, the god of science and clarity. The winged messenger looks for cracks in the surface and seeks to undermine single-minded literalism in any form it takes. In many ways, Hermes appears to be the archetypal god of our age. He’s a daimonic personality par-excellence: sneaking in the back-door of Apollo’s science, and overturning the established order with a new, anarchic and rhizomatic age – what the sociologist Manuel Castells calls the Network Age.
Finally, Hermes is the lord of technology. Craftiness and cleverness are essential tools for “movie magic.” Davis writes that “Hermes’ trickery is not merely a rational device, but an expression of magical power.” As mentioned before, technology, or techne (meaning art or craft in Greek), is closely related to the machinery (machine, make, magic) of the modern age. One might wonder if we’re actually living in an age of spells and magic, rather than Apollo’s pure science and reason. If that’s the case, then the return of medieval fairy tales makes much more sense!
In a scientific culture, Harpur believes that daimons have returned to us in the guise of UFOs and aliens. UFO sightings are oddly similar to fairy sightings of old lore, and alien abductions are nearly identical to old stories of goblins and gnomes stealing away people in the night to poke and prod them.
Carl Jung himself believed that the appearance of UFOs were manifestations of the collective psyche. In the time of Cold War, where the world was so psychically polarized and divided, UFOs – symbols of the mandala – represented a cry for integration.
So let’s step away from the strange world of science fiction and explore a few examples of this “mythic” return in media.
Coming out of the Coffin, White Walkers, and Serpent Tails
I’d like to start off with True Blood. I picked this work because it came out a few years ago, and I think it perfectly reflects the return of the “daimonic” reality of little people and all things supernatural. First off, let’s take a look at the narrative.
In this show, which takes place in our world, vampires have literally “come out of the coffin.” They’ve announced themselves to the mundane world of modern civilization, which up until this point is basically our world. These beings, among others that the show introduces, were relegated to folklore and fairytales. They were fantasies. But the vampires here announce themselves and their whole underground social structure - of Kings and Queens, Magistrates and territories - all operating for thousands of years beneath the surface of human affairs.
To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into details about what the protagonist, Sookie, actually is. Suffice to say that she’s further evidence for this supernatural upheaval of the world. Throughout the seasons thus far, witches, demigods, shapeshifters, werewolves, and shamans all make appearances. In some sense, the show is revealing these daimonic creatures to contemporary audience and to popular culture.
Drinking a vampire’s blood, dubbed “V” in the show, produces supernatural erotic effects in the human body. It is a kind of tantric initiation with the unconscious and animal instincts, causing heightened senses (like smell, which can occur in Kundalini and spiritual activation). William Irwin Thompson has noted in Blue Jade from the Morning Star that the awakening of Kundalini is a “recapitulation” of the evolution of the nervous system, moving from the base of the spine and our lower instincts, into the mammalian brain (heightened sexuality and sense of smell), and then into illuminated eye. In some sense, the show is initiating the viewers into glimpsing a potential erotic spiritual awakening. But not without its darker side.
Like Br. Chris, I believe folklore is un-intentionally preserving and conveying spiritual knowledge. As the mythologist Joseph Campbell often writes, myths teach us how to live. They’re didactic. Meaning, they instruct us, teach us truths about life and guide us through the stages of childhood and adulthood. I believe they naturally do this, with or without our conscious help.
Perhaps there’s some truth to the old Sumerian myths about the gods bringing the gifts of civilization to their people. Or earlier on, our ancestors 30,000 years ago rapidly began to develop highly sophisticated art and ritual. A key might be gleaned from the shaman, who’s able to traverse worlds, a daimonic personality him/herself, and functions as teacher, theologian, healer. He or she is able to enter these worlds of the Imagination and bring back knowledge and meaning to the tribe. I believe this is continued in civilization by mystics, who maintain a living relationship with these other realms.
In a fascinating dialogue during Season 2, the character Bill appeals to the Queen of Louisiana in order to gain some facts about a supernatural being plaguing his town. It seems to transmit the idea that, somehow, reality is more dreamlike than we think:
“Surely you know, everything that exists imagined itself into existence"
In shows like Once Upon a Time, this idea is reversed, whereby the main characters are daimonic: they come from fairytales and are mythical beings themselves, but they’ve forgotten that about themselves and their world. To me, this reversal is a reminder that we are daimonic ourselves. We’re of this world and beyond it. The show acts as a metaphorical soul-retrieval, helping us recollect our “true nature,” in a Platonic sense of anamnesis, or soul-remembrance.
One of my favorite shows at the moment, Game of Thrones, clearly expresses this narrative of a supernatural return.
This show takes place in a fictional, medieval world that’s nearly bereft of magic or anything supernatural. In the ancient times of this world, there used to be dragons. Now only their bones remain. Supernatural creatures, the White Walkers, and other odd beings used to plague the world and be a part of human life. But now it seems they’ve all gone. As I mentioned in my older article, There Be Dragons, the supernatural world is creeping back to life. The White Walkers are returning in the northern lands and dragons are born again from the south. Although the story is dramatic, brutal, and focusing on the baser sides of human nature, it is subtly being over-run with ancient, supernatural forces.
Fascinatingly, the character who’s heralding the return of the dragons, who have often symbolized nature, chaos, and in Jung’s psychology, the unconscious, is a woman – the Mother of Dragons. To me, this clearly symbolizes the return of the repressed unconscious, creeping up unexpectedly while the politics of power and wealth occupy the kingdoms.
Tying back to shamanism, the character Bran Stark is wounded in season 1 (in the pilot). Despite being crippled, he gains powers. Often, a shaman will go through some rite of initiation, usually a spontaneous illness or injury, that rockets him into the spirit world. Bran begins to dream of a crow with a third eye, and these dreams seem to foreshadow events in the story. In season 2, he begins to dream through the eyes of a wolf. Maester Luwin assures Bran that his dreams are mere fantasies. Such strange things have not existed for centuries, he tells him. Bran remains unconvinced, and later in the story, he will learn to develop his shamanic powers.
Hints of Psychic Unity for a Planetary Age
It’s my belief that the return of myths and fairy tales in popular culture is further evidence for a gradual intensification of consciousness. A demand for integration. A search for wholeness and unity. It’s a yearning for the soul in Harpur’s terms, or the slow process of individuation of the Self according to Jung. In Gebser’s terminology, this represents the “integral” structure of consciousness. While not sufficient, or conscious, integrative in themselves, the abundance of myth and fairytale in popular culture is expressing a “mythic revival.” What has been suppressed must be integrated, somehow.
Perhaps it is only through losing our soul that we re-gain it with a richer, deeper understanding. Contemporary author Charles Eisenstein has written in The Ascent of Humanity that we’re going through a kind of Fall and Return, where we’re learning to listen to indigenous worldviews and re-integrate lost parts of ourselves.
While we shouldn’t abandon science, the spirit of the age is encouraging us to integrate all modes of consciousness on their own terms. In other words, with integrity. We are coming full circle to a potential re-sacralization (perhaps, a new, further intensified sacralization) of the cosmos. Interestingly, the Neo-Platonists described the Soul as a “sphere” of light. Gebser himself described integral consciousness as a sphere. And we’re indeed living in a spherical age, a global age, calling out for wholeness.
The electric – now digital – era is part of the retrieval of these ancient forms, or structures, of consciousness. As the world becomes enveloped in a web of communication systems, we’re seeing synchronous manifestations: outer forms of a new inner movement of consciousness. Maybe we’re hearing whispers from the World Soul.
Editors- TJ Dawe, Chris Dierkes.
1. Davis, Erik. TechGnosis.
2. Ebert, John. The New Media Invasion.
3. Gebser, Jean. Ever-Present Origin.
4. Harpur, Patrick. Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld.