By CRAIG CHALQUIST, who will be taking over as department chair of East-West Psychology in January 2013. Craig teaches mythology, depth psychology, and ecopsychology at CIIS.
When we talk about how to power our civilization we seldom look at the mythic images involved. Yet C.G. Jung, Karl Kerényi, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Edith Hamilton, and Joseph Campbell all insisted that myths are not just archaic theories for what science has now explained.
Rather, myths make visible the underside of a culture just as dreams make visible the life going on in the personal unconscious. That is why myths never die, they only get reinvented: the zombies of old not given up by the civilized mind, but shambling along looking like half-dead banks full of toxic assets; the Golem reinvented as the robot; Merlin’s wand molded into the smartphone; the figure of the giant now the world-girdling transnational corporation; the bursting cosmic egg of many mythologies referred to now as the Big Bang. As Campbell’s famous statement from The Hero with a Thousand Faces tells us, “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
What mythic images confront us in the debate about clean versus dirty energy?
It took our planet billions of years to remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to allow life to take hold and grow here. By contrast, the extractive energy industries--especially coal and petroleum--reverse that great cycle of evolution. Little wonder that mythic images of the Underworld, including the Christian Hell, always follow extractive operations. Entire decapitated mountain ranges in Appalachia now resemble something out of Dante’s Inferno. The Cuyahoga River has burned thirteen times because of oil spills: our version of Phlegethon, the flaming river in ancient Greek mythology.
Oil and coal are dark, poisonous, and dangerous to mine and to manipulate. It’s breathtaking to imagine internal combustion imagistically: an entire civilization powered by inner explosions whose smothering byproducts make the atmosphere dim and feverish. Pluto may have been downgraded as a planet, but he is alive and powerful here on Earth: Pluto, deadly god of hidden wealth and root of the word “plutocracy.”
By contrast, images of abundance follow solar, wind, and water power. Enough sunlight falls on Earth in an hour to power everything for a year. Generous sunlight, unceasing wind, rippling waves bring organic images of bounty and flow, cycle and season. The installations that catch their energies without fracking up the biosphere do not explode like oil refineries do. Troops are not dispatched to foreign lands to fight for sunlight, wind, or wave, nor are financial empires built on the hydraulic despotism of monopolizing these free resources.
The gods of extraction are dark, hidden, or fiery deities, but those of alternative energy move freely across the sea and sky without regard for archaic national borders or destructive political alignments.
The question of which energy sources to rely on, then, is also a question of which mythic images we favor: the dangerous and lethal, or the abundant and natural? The confined and hidden or the bright and free? At the gas pump we pay homage to Pluto and Mars, but how might we shift our allegiance to Helios and Gaia?