Mephistopheles, Child of Christian Civilization

Part I: Dis-association Gets a Name

The modern trope and symbol for the sinister archpriest likely requires some analysis to give it meaning in three dimensions, and to put this being into some kind of social context related to the present spirit of the times. At first, this may seem like an impossible task, given the media’s proliferation in everyday life. When therefore, is the individual not inundated with a glut of images in print, social media, television, satellite, cable stations, etc., that can even be accessed on one’s personal cell phone, tablet or other electronic devices? The human mind has the capacity to recognize and concentrate on far fewer stimuli than are now overwhelming the senses. The result is that much information simply is not processed. To focus on the seemingly oblivious, requires the intuitive process of picking up the thread and following Ariadne’s trail. It might appear obvious who the “bad guys” are, but does the thinking individual notice patterns both in space and time? Are these patterns that connect, therefore, both synchronic and diachronic in similar and disparate loci? Although the entire corpus of this thought experiment is outside the purview of the current exercise, we can, in fact, focus on a few outstanding examples to illuminate the subject matter herein. If the thinking person is “looking” for the ends of Ariadne’s thread to collect, and eventually to follow them, where or what is the starting point?

Hunting the sinister archpriest in a manner that considers space and time is both a thought provoking endeavour and at the same time evokes a sense of vulnerability: if I do hunt this creature down, what will be the effect on the unconscious processes of the psyche? In other words, can the fact-finder, the observer, the journalist of the mind contact an energy being across the liminal space of the mind-scape? The answer is yes, though such contact must be made of an awareness of not one, but two realities; the mundane world that we (our ego) see every day in wakefulness and the “other” world we visit when the dream ego journeys to the realm of sleep awareness. For the average individual with any true sense of spirituality, the logical place to visit the two planes of existence is through a powerful meditative experience. The seeker may not even be consciously aware that this is happening; though a practiced individual will exhibit greater awareness and acceptance of what they “see” and experience. Such interior knowledge was named “Gnosis” in the ancient world and encompassed both non-Christian and Christian themes. As long as what was Caesar’s was “rendered” unto him, the public were free to worship as they pleased. It is through the later Roman Church that we begin to see the symbol of the sinister archpriest arise. How often did the congregation look at the floor in supplication to God only to see the black hem of the clergy’s robes? The cassock, then, during the late Dark Ages became an external stimulus of fear in the faithful and by association, the men who wore them. It has also become a sinister internal symbol for the archaeologist of the mind. Should the faithful be kept in line through fear and ignorance, or with the added threat of the inquisitor’s tool kit lurking in the unconscious? If fear is internalized over a long stretch of time, it sends the human “fight or flight” response awry. The vague mind plague of the fluid evil cleric then begins to coalesce into a more recognizable figure in both realities.

The nexus of the two has been an icon of popular culture for more than two centuries (a coincidence with the rise of the Industrial Age? Dis, “the Dark Lord” as opposed to his “light-bearing” twin, Lucifer prior to 1807?) Though we have the creature scurrying about before 1808, it was not until Goethe’s Faust that made it truly manifest and memorable. It also provided, in a rather subtle way, the answer to the “splitting” (disassociation) of the opposites in the tangible and intangible worlds as Faust gradually acquired Mephistopheles’ personality characteristics and vice versa along with their quasi-cassock-like garments. By the end of the book, the two characters could have been twin brothers. Though, to think this through critically, the hyper-rationality of the Age of Reason was also partially responsible for cleaving the two realities. Britain certainly picked this up through diffusion and Bram Stoker realized, to a large extent, the beast in tangible form. The extra foulness of the creature was twisted by late Victorian attitudes about sexuality culminating in what anthropologist Robin Fox calls the “incest” element of the relationship between the hoary creature and the youthful Mina Harker.

A quarter of a century later (notably after World War I,) the creature again arises in Germany with the unauthorized release of F.W. Murnau’s now cult classic movie “Nosferatu” in 1922. A critical question here is: why on earth (or in hell) is the unholy creature wearing the priest’s black cassock or something very much akin to it? And why was Germany still clinging to this trope/symbol after the war, when a catharsis of soul should have manifested? The dream psychologists, Gnostics, medicine men, and doctors of society state that when an issue remains unresolved in the psyche, the “symptoms” persist. Germany’s issues after the war and the subsequent failed Weimar Republic must have remained unresolved despite the mass psychosis the war had provoked. (An outstanding treatment or “diagnosis” of the general German psyche at this time and the Nazi period has been described by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung in three seminal essays within Volume 10 Civilization in Transition of his Collected Works: Wotan (1936 ,) After the Catastrophe (1945,) and The Fight with the Shadow (1946.) Carl Jung describes the shadow as a “complex.”

Faust-and-Mephistopheles-1826 by Eugene Delacroix Mephistopheles and Faust by Eugene Delacroix

A complex is an energetic force within the psyche that is constellated by external stimuli yet it remains hidden from the subject; in other words, the individual is unaware of its activation. This unawareness lies in the complexes’ location: partially buried in the personal unconscious. The experience of the shadow is essentially unpleasant because it carries with it undesirable feeling tones, images, memories, and other stimuli with which the ego does not want to associate or integrate. These devices can be both consciously and unconsciously suppressed and repressed; in either circumstance, the greater the forcible denial, the stronger the negative energy grows. This can lead to neuroses and more serious emotional personality problems. However, there is “gold in the coal” to be found by bringing shadow contents to consciousness: where ego is the center of consciousness and with careful operational control use the newly aware material within the field of consciousness with the ego’s guidance. The center of the unconscious or “Self” is an autonomous entity experienced through dreams, symbols, and images. The individual may attempt to pick up Ariadne’s thread here through the symbol of the sinister archpriest and his black cassock. “Black” here can, in itself, cause fear because of its association with the unconscious and the “creatures of the night” hidden behind the veil.

The above mentioned act of ego/shadow integration which made Mephistopheles and Faust more balanced personalities is the key to depowering the shadow; not further suppression and repression of those characteristics deemed undesirable by ego and society. These suppression and repressions, especially in the spiritual life of the individual go far back in time to the early years of Roman codification of Christianity after Constantine made it the state religion. Prior to the 4th century AD, Christianity was a heterogeneous religion with much spirituality from both the West and the East and largely concentrated in the great Egyptian port city of Alexandria and its magnificent library: what treasures were lost to Roman rapacity some 2,000 years ago and the suppression of “heretical” texts over the next few centuries? Fortunately, for the individual trying to locate a native spirituality in heterogeneous Christianity, prescient monks in the 4th century AD from an Egyptian monastery near Mount Sinai buried their texts in the nearby mountains where they remained largely undisturbed until 1945. Today, we have the marvellous collection known as the Nag Hammadi Library. The vengeful Roman authorities stated that the faithful caught with these “non-canonical” texts would be executed, and this Gnostic literature proceeded further and further East to escape persecution until we see reflections of it in Byzantine alchemy, Greek Orthodox Hesychasm (revealed only to skete monks and not the general laity,) and later modern Sufism. The church fathers had gone from religious leaders to religious police as the later Inquisition so graphically inscribed itself on history. Even today, do “the faithful” attend mass and acknowledge the church bureaucracy as all powerful and to be feared, or is it their comforting companion through life? The list of “rules” promulgated by the religious bureaucracy likely provides the answer. To paraphrase Jung: “large collectives (like bureaucracies and the elite “one-percenters”) have the mentality of large, stupid, and dangerous animals.” The rationale for this statement is clear: individuality is lost in the masses. The masses themselves seem to have a negative connotation of their own reflection because of epithets such as “the hoi polloi,” “the herd mentality,” and “the rabble” which they apply liberally and with relish to themselves.

The place of the individual in small band foraging societies is the most equitable; with spirituality located in the individuals themselves (the Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Australian Aborigines come to mind here.) In other words, spirituality in human beings was originally an internal and individual experience; and to the amazing credit of the Gnostics, they found it again in the morass and miasma of civilization about two millennia ago: The Gospel of Philip states “those who say they will (physically) die first and then rise are in error. If they do not receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.” The “resurrection” here means the reconciliation of the opposites, the spiritual first step to integrating consciousness with the unconscious (the “ego-Self axis.”) The canonical Gospel of Luke also acknowledges that “the kingdom of heaven is within you.” Therefore, the “resurrection” or “reconciliation of the opposites” is exactly that: a reintegration of the internally split psyche pummelled by civilization’s aberrations which small band foragers never had to go through. A careful anthropological analysis of hunter-gatherer ecology and spirituality would go a long way to redress the understanding of this imbalance. (The author of this essay attempted to do just that with his Master’s thesis only to be suppressed and censured by the black-robed authoritarian plutocrats of his “higher” learning institutions. In general, the secular clergy of the universities and museums have replaced the religious centers of learning during “the dark ages” where the clerics controlled and dispersed their brand of knowledge to a gullible public. “Dark” here means intentional ignorance: “knowledge is power,” to be kept by “advisors” and “mentors” even from some or most of the talented members of their own student body.)

Let us pick up the thread leading to reintegration of consciousness with genetic memory (what behavioral biologists call “the human ethogram:” the sum total of the human behavioral repertoire as encoded in the brain by human evolution) with a short field guide from antiquity to the present. This author, through trial and error (in other words, an autodidact,) followed Ariadne’s thread by reading the following short and annotated book list: Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels; Stuart Holroyd, The Elements of Gnosticism; The Nag Hammadi Library; Jung and Gnosticism; Jung and Shamanism; Robert Hopcke, A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung; The Collected Works of C.G Jung; various shamanic journals; and numerous books and readings in Jungian theory and practice, and hunter-gatherer lifeways. This short list, by no means exhaustive, was then expanded upon for further or more in-depth readings in particular subject matter areas. A question one might ask is how to prepare the student or reader of this material in a structured manner that can be assimilated and used for critical thought later? The old school clerics (and modern “advisors”) must be laughing at the difficulties this endeavour must present to the average lay person/student. Their hope, one would presume, would be to shut the critical thinking process down completely and to either eliminate perceived competition or to put “faith” back on its ignorant pedestal. What is faith but the acceptance of the unknown devoid of any proof? It is certainly an easy way out for the conflicted psyche which prefers not to consider the alternatives.

This conflict, however remotely perceived it is, does seem to nag at the back of the mind of the critical thinker; but how do we know it persists to the point where the seeker wants different answers? Following (picking up Ariadne’s thread) a neurosis to its root, or a projection, or unpleasant dream symbols can all lead to recognition of “the splitting of the opposites.” The “opposites” here can be ego and shadow, consciousness and the unconscious, or anima/animus within a living human being. The anima (of the male) and animus (of the female) are archetypes symbolically representing the opposite sexual characteristics of the individual who is aware of this energetic phenomenon. Much like the shadow, they can be projected onto others and can hold both negative and positive charges. A man who recognizes “his type” in various women is becoming consciously aware that these are his feminine characteristics projected onto the opposite sex. This might explain the rather over-used cliché “it’s like I’ve known her all my life” yet all these women remain strangers to him. The same projective phenomena are present in the “fairer sex” as well.

A word on archetypes and then we shall move on to their actual recognition under certain circumstances: an archetype is a universal primordial image, archaic pattern, or behaviour which cannot be cognized except by its appearance as an external “symbol” to the perceiver or in dreams. The archetype itself remains hidden in the collective unconscious (ethogram or genetic memory.) Ethologist (behavioral biologist) Niko Tinbergen would use the term “innate releasing mechanism” to describe the archetype in his seminal book, The Study of Instinct. This is important to consider because different disciplines are essentially stating the same facts in their own words. These “converging lines of evidence” solidify the theories behind them.

The first step in the realignment of the ego-Self axis is identification of the shadow. In practice, this is not a particularly difficult exercise other than it is an on-going process to integrate these personal characteristics into the conscious life of the seeker. The shadow is both a complex residing in one’s personal unconscious and an archetype which remains fully hidden except for its symbolic symptomatology. The energetic quality of the shadow should immediately alert the seeker that this complex has been constellated (activated.) “Constellation” is probably a better word for this action because it implies forces being drawn to a vectored location. In this case, we refer to images, thoughts, feelings, memories, etc., all associated with this movement. As an example, perhaps our shadow has been constellated by some type of authority figure (high-ranking clergy, a politician, a corporate mogul,) making statements that seem sanctimonious and fatuous coming out of their mouths. This “irritation” (activation of emotion) stings one into thinking about what qualities have just been revealed about the seeker, not the speaker. These qualities have lain dormant or have been suppressed by the seeker (unconsciously or not) and are activated by a stranger who happens to have “pressed one of your buttons.” The cue here is not to remain in blind ignorance and anger but to realize these qualities are the seeker’s own and must be brought forth from “the darkness” into the light of consciousness. When the seeker owns his or her shadow qualities they enhance their sphere of awareness and at the same time release the bottled up energy (anger in this case) for more useful purposes. This is one tiny step to what certain religious texts call “enlightenment” (not the insipid pseudo-intellectualisms being taught about doing good deeds.) The fact that a mirror has been placed in the seeker’s face can make them “better” (i.e., less neurotic) especially when it comes to something as personal as spiritual beliefs or other deeply held convictions about the environment.

In our example then, is it “good” to destroy the natural environment of small band hunter-gatherer societies to provide resources for the insatiable needs of the civilized masses? Moreover, is it acceptable if a “modern” religious leader execrates the “primitive” medicine man or shaman of the tribe for voicing his animistic concerns over the environment? The conflict of religious thought stretches back into deep time when the agricultural oppression religions gained their ascendancy over small band forager societies perhaps some 5,000 years ago. The suppression and repression of their spiritual systems really is not that far removed from our own. If the alleged great religions of the world can oppress those closer to their environments (as well as each other,) what about intra-religious oppression? If one goes to confession and tells their priest the individual committed adultery with a person of a different religion while reading Tarot cards to tell the future, would they fear excommunication, or just a “slap on the wrist?” If excommunicated, how much time will one spend worrying about their immortal soul being punished in hell? And for our purposes, who or what is the avatar of punishment?

The seemingly obvious and rather mundane answer is what all “religions of the book” cling to: The victim strayed from God and is now being punished by a combination of His absence and the Devil’s presence. If the average lay seeker thinks a bit more critically about this causation, he or she may find it wanting as a profound rationale. Would not this creature of punishment have the characteristics of a shadow being rather than some nebulous moral ideation? Although many options exist to treat this subject, the author will confine himself to a few outstanding examples of the evil cleric or sinister archpriest. Going back to the Spanish Inquisition is a good start, though this and a considerable amount of history would have to be reviewed and is outside the scope of this essay. Let us begin then, as described above, in the early1800s with Mephistopheles. Although dressed for the most part like a dandy of the period, his black cassock sits metaphorically in the closet. The very word “devil” seems to frighten or disgust some people away from such literature and the overly academic intelligentsia who do engage him as a literary construct fail to see the Gnostic Faust-Mephistopheles (F-M) dyadic monad. Faust and Mephistopheles are just as connected as Jekyll and Hyde even though they appear to be separate characters. As mentioned above, the F-M construct begins to incorporate characteristics of each other until finally a unified being emerges; or what might be termed the integration of the shadow with ego consciousness; one step in the reconciliation of the opposites, the repair of the split or dissociative psyche reaching upwards for the next heaven.

In this particular case, the fact of the matter is that Mephistopheles does not carry the fear load as some more modern evil clerics do (more on this below, and the reader may find a sneaking but secret admiration for the fellow.) Here we can look to popular culture as well as literature for these icons or symbols of “true evil” to manifest. What is “true evil” anyway? A trip to church is not likely to provide an adequate answer to the lay person (some major religions continue to withhold information; to keep the laity “in the dark” because today, much like the dark ages, knowledge is power and the bureaucrats want nothing more than to conserve their power.)  Although this author is not a “Marxist” (Marx incorrectly based his thought processes on the now discredited 19th century conclusions of anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan,) there is a nugget of gold in Marxist thought: organized religion is most certainly the opiate of the people. By people, here he means the agro-industrialist civilizations. By opiate, he means what is discussed above relative to discarding critical thought for the easy answers. “True evil” in the critical thinker’s sense, is defined as “the production and maintenance of human suffering,” not the nebulous moral ideations of the mainstream churches and their intellectually crippled cousins: the Fundamentalists. One mistranslated word from the Bible, and the Fundamentalists are up and running: the ancient Greek word kakia written in the Bible referred to the suffering of people in the commonplaces of their everyday lives, not in any supernatural and supercilious sense.

(A brief excursus: it is amazing how pop culture can pick up on a social issue so accurately, succinctly, and cogently when the government, intelligentsia, big business/corporations, the banking system, and everyone else who should be noticing, (excepting a few sharp anthropologists) get it all wrong. Included here are the lyrics from the British heavy metal band Motorhead and their song Get Back in Line which was released only a few years ago on their appropriately titled album The World is Yours:

We live on borrowed time, hope turned to dust,
nothing is forgiven, we fight for every crust.
The way we are is not the way we used to be, my friend,
All things come to he who waits, the waiting never ends.

We are the chosen few; We are the frozen crew,
We don’t know what we do, just wasting time.
We don’t know when to quit, we don’t have room to spit,
But we’ll get over it, get back in line.

Stuck here ten thousand years, don’t know how to act,
Everything forgotten, especially the facts.
The way we live is running scared, I don’t like it much,
All things come to he who waits, but these days most things suck.

We are the chosen ones, we don’t know right from wrong.
We don’t know what’s going on, don’t know enough to care.
We are the dogs of war; don’t even know what for.
But we obey the law, get back in line.

We are trapped in luxury, starving on parole,
No one told us who to love, we have sold our souls.
Why do we vote for faceless dogs? We always take the bait.
All things come to he who waits, but all things come too late.

We are the sacrifice, and we don’t like advice, we always pay the price,
Pearls before swine.
Now we are only slaves, already in our graves, and if you think that Jesus
saves, get back in line.
If you think that Jesus saves, get back in line.

(End of excursus)

Next: Part II – Nosferatu is Risen

George is a former archaeologist and anthropologist in cultural resources management where his mission was the preservation and curation of prehistoric Native American sites and artifacts. He graduated from The American University with a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology in 2004. Current areas of interest include advocacy for Indigenous peoples and issues and rights of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.