This episode of Living Myth focuses upon Vladimir Putin’s tragic invasion of Ukraine and the archetypal pattern of the “negative senex” or sick and dying old king. Psychologically, the negative old ruler represents a dominant position in consciousness which has outlived its usefulness and has become an obstacle to, and even an enemy of, a greater sense of consciousness.
It is the same to live in a tragic time as it is to be in a tragic place, a poet once said. And we now live amongst growing tragedies the world over with the latest being the war in which Russia targets innocents and aims to terrorize everyone in Ukraine. Because we live in a time of mass communications as well as mass casualties, we are all witnesses to the carnage and the madness of war. In that sense, we are all subjects of a cold-hearted attack on all who hold human liberty and human dignity to be essential to human culture.
There is a manifestation of the nobility and courage of the human soul coming from the people in Ukraine, who not only choose to fight to save their homes and their sense of liberty, they also enter a battle to save their sense of self in the face of a darkness that can cause despair. And, we are all implicated in that battle; for we all live on the border of uncertainty, that can in a moment, become the edge of despair.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates a wicked truth about the human condition. For, a single person, should they have enough power and enough darkness in their heart, can dream up a war and impose that nightmare on everyone. Other nations can send weapons and supplies and set sanctions against Putin and Russia, but there is no effective mechanism to stop someone from misusing power, even if they announce their intention to wreak unholy havoc on humanity and the world.
I am not criticizing political responses or the meaningful efforts being made to stop mass destruction and potential genocide. Rather, what strikes me in this tragedy is how the psyche and the pathology of one person can hold everyone hostage and then coldly unleash darkness and terror on a massive scale.
Before the war started, those who study Putin questioned which side of the autocratic leader would take charge. Would it be the cold, strategic side of Putin’s mind or the ideological, nationalistic side of him that would decide the fate of Ukrainian as well as Russian people?
Once the invasion began, the question rapidly shifted to whether Putin was of stable mind. Had he become mentally unstable and paranoid after being isolated by COVID-19? Was he diminished because he had turned 70 years old or was he simply crazy? Some of those conditions may be present, however dismissing Putin’s behavior as crazy obscures important psychological issues and collective energies that are playing out throughout the world at this time.
Putin and other would be autocrats can be seen to be caught in the archetypal patterns of the “negative senex,” the sick and dying old king. In mythology, this dark side of Saturn or Cronos appears as the oppressive autocrat who exploits every crisis precisely to acquire more power. The shadow side of this psychological complex appears in the crushing patriarchal figures who seek to cling to power at any cost, just as Cronos ate his own children in order to avoid losing power and control.
Throughout history, autocrats have sought to manipulate and control a fearful populace with promises to restore idealized conditions of the past, while restricting freedoms in the present. Tragically, mass communications and weapons of mass destruction have made the powers of manipulation as well as the levels of destruction much greater.
Psychologically, the negative old ruler represents a dominant position in consciousness which has outlived its usefulness and has become an obstacle to, and even an enemy of, a greater sense of consciousness. There is a symbolic coincidence in which Putin individually represents the archetype of the sick, reckless, autocratic ruler; while at the same time, the negative side of the archetype manifests in other would be rulers and in extreme political parties.
Part of the darkness of these dark times involves the negative patriarchal energies that threaten the health and safety of the entire world. This cynical senex energy rejects the feminine capacity for relatedness as weakness, as it has lost touch with intimate feelings and all sense of human compassion and love. The absence of the feminine can be seen and felt in the dryness and coldness of a consciousness that only wants to be in touch with power, while increasingly becoming out of touch with life itself.
And yet, the archetype of the controlling and dividing ruler can be initiatory, in the sense that it indicates the nature of changes trying to happen in the human psyche as a whole. The dark side of Saturn-Cronos, with its willful lust for and abuse of power, challenges us to connect with our own deepest feelings of nobility, unity and care for the earth we share.
What is playing out dramatically and tragically on the world stage is also being played out as a struggle in the heart of humanity. The instinctive feeling of connection to and support for the vulnerable people of Ukraine is connected to our collective vulnerability at this time. What Putin cannot grasp and will not understand is the expansion of consciousness that is needed to dissolve the rigid, vengeful forces that entrap his soul, the souls of many of his people, and at some level, all of our souls.
In the dark times the eye begins to see, said a poet. At the dark edge of fear for the future of humanity and for the earth, a vision tries to form as past and future seek to clarify at the same time. The hope to be found at the edge of despair must involve new ways of seeing the world and our place within it. For, we are also standing at the edge of nobility and despair, in the collective shadow of not knowing what might come next.
Although it cannot diminish the suffering and loss occurring to the people of Ukraine, I want to end with a poem from Hafiz. "I have come into the world to see this, the swords drop from man's hands, even at the top of their arc of anger, because we have finally realized that there is just one flesh that we can wound.
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