Where have all the prophets gone? (Part Two) 06/19/2012Posted by ALT in Philosophy/Spirituality, Psychosis.
Tags: collective unconscious, dry bones, Ezekiel, Far Side of Madness, John Perry, prophet, psychosis, schizophrenia, visionary
[read Part One here]
(New International Version)
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know. ”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath [in Hebrew, the word also means “spirit”]enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath [spirit] in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. ’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath [spirit], from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord. ’”
This was the text for the sermon I heard at the church of my childhood, a few weeks ago. I had never encountered this story before, and it floored me.
What powerful imagery, and how relevant to our times! A valley of dry bones, the people dead and desiccated, no breath to enliven them… until the Spirit reclaims them. And I was struck – thunderstruck, really — by the fact that Ezekiel’s vision bears a striking resemblance to the visions experienced by many during a so-called “psychotic episode”: death and destruction, an Apocalypse, the voice of God, a rebirth.
In The Far Side of Madness, John Perry proposes a series of interrelated archetypal images/ideas that consistently make an appearance in the psychotic process (though not necessarily in a linear fashion):
A. Center – A location is established at a world center or cosmic axis
B. Death – Themes of dismemberment or sacrifice
C. Return to beginnings
D. Cosmic Conflict – a battle between good and evil
E. Threat of Opposite
F. Apotheosis – direct communication or identification with God
G. Sacred Marriage
H. New Birth
I. New Society/a New Age
J. Quadrated World – a fourfold structure of the world or cosmos
(from John Weir Perry’s Far Side of Madness)
Perry illustrates, with numerous case studies, the amazing regularity with which these features appear in psychotic processes. Ezekiel’s vision contains many of them: death (dismemberment), cosmic conflict, apotheosis, new birth (the bones and flesh made alive), and quadrated world (breath “from the four winds”). The book of Ezekiel, an account of Ezekiel’s seven visions from God, contains them all.
The idea that some [not all] psychotic processes are spiritual in nature, and serve (in part)* to convey a message from the divine, is an old one. In fact, in many traditional cultures, it was and is the dominant interpretation of these experiences.
But in our culture, the idea that psychosis/the visionary process has value for the individual experiencing it and the community to which he belongs is downright revolutionary!
On the micro level — the individual — it is valuable as
a self-healing process – one in which, specifically, the pathological complexes dissolve themselves. The whole schizophrenic turmoil is really a self-organising, healing experience.
-John Weir Perry, in this interview
But there is an analog at the macro level, the level of the community, that is equally important:
Our new understanding shows that the process of re-connection to the Unconscious [psychosis]… is nonetheless made up of the same stuff as seers, visionaries, cultural reformers and prophets go through. They also experience much of the same content, except that in their case it is specifically concerned, first and foremost, with the culture itself.
Any kind of therapy that deals with the psyche at this deeper level of the collective unconscious, one comes to the inevitable realisation that we are not going along in our psychic life, you know, just in a realm of interpersonal relationships. A very powerful culture such as ours projects huge patterns, huge conflicts and turmoils, and we all experience them, although we may not be conscious of their inner meaning at all.
In this sense, Humankind is still enormously alienated; the point is, it doesn’t happen just in Washington and Moscow – it happens within the psyche of the whole people…
This brings up the question of myth-form. You see, the big problems facing society are perceived in symbolic, mythic expression, and for this reason their resolution takes place on the symbolic, mythic level as well. If there’s work going on in a culture to reorganise itself, then it’s a process that must occur on both levels simultaneously: individuals will go through their personal visions, and collective spokesmen will express collective visions, which get worked out and implemented on a cultural level.
– John Weir Perry, in this interview**; emphasis added
Where have all the prophets gone?
Does this culture have problems of epic proportions facing it? I would say: YES. Are we in need of reorganization, a drastic reordering of priorities, some serious soul-searching? Again, my opinion – YES.
And is it possible that somewhere in the vast expanse of humankind exists a visionary, one who will journey across an archetypal landscape and bring back to us a spiritual message, a breath of life to the dry bones of our culture of death?
Will we listen?
Or will we label (as psychotic) and medicate (with “anti-psychotics”) until that voice grows silent?
* They also serve as a process of self -reorganization, psychic re-invention.
** More from John Perry on these ideas in this excellent video interview, recently uploaded to YouTube (!):