Nature of the Beast

“What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

Yeats’ question is tinged with exhilaration and terror. As he wrote, war was tearing society as he knew it apart, both in Ireland and across Europe and the Middle East. It was a prelude to even greater changes to come. We are witnessing many of those changes now as pandemic, climate change, and the viral spread of disinformation and paranoia through global communication networks rend apart markets, nation states, paradigms, ideologies, communities, and lives.

Some evolutionary biologists believe that the evolution of first the spine, the skeleton and the neuro-muscular bundles that allow for locomotion, then the amygdala, then the brain itself, were driven by the desire for motion. The first imperative of survival is to move away from what seems dangerous to us. We keep trying to move away from it unless and until our relationship to it changes.

Civilization sought to move us further from danger by walling off the outside world. Beyond the boundaries of the first cities were the wild beasts and the people the citizenry thought beastly because of their rejection of the wall that divided them from the wild. But cut off from the wild world, the city could not survive without continual expansion and plunder. So those within the walls declared all who were outside the walls savage and sought to tame, subjugate, or eradicate them.

That walling off became reflected in a new musculoskeletal experience – that of physiological armoring through sustained tension in the muscles and the fascia. The walls of the city are mirrored in walls of tension we create to contain the be(a)st within us and hold off the beastly in the world around us. This tension walls us off from our own senses and drives us into the state Stephen Buhner calls “dissociated mentation” in which we attempt to map the world with our left frontal cortex alone and impose order on the world around us.

When attempts to create order from chaos are engaged in fluid ways in which the shape of the order shifts according to the feedback gained from direct sensory input from inner and outer worlds, the tension is a creative tension that finds is resolution in art, poetry, music, dance, true science, and magic(k). When they are approached in rigid ways, they result in violence to ourselves and each other as we try to force conformity to a detached and distorted perception of the “ideal.”

Dr. Wilhelm Reich observed and wrote about this as he was trying to understand the rise of Fascism in Europe and its deep historical and cultural roots. He wrote:

“The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture is typified by characterological armoring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This characterological armoring of the character is the basis of isolation, indigence, craving for authority, fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness.”

For the crime of having these insights, he was first denounced by his fellow students of Sigmund Freud, then had to flee Fascism, then was cast out of the Communist Party for excessive anti-Fascism and suspect ideas about the healing power of pleasure, and finally had his books burned by the U.S. government and died in federal prison. He is now buried less than a mile up the road from me.

Much of our political discourse today reflects tension between liberal desires to tame and assimilate what is wild or strange and conservative desires to contain, subjugate, or eradicate either the strangeness or the stranger. From this desire, Archons arise – idealized, abstracted, external, absolute, authorities given life by people's devotion. The liberal embraces the state and civil society and academia, the conservatives embrace the market and the church and the military. (Both, of course, also embrace the Archons of their opponents in secret.) The structures of governance that arise from these fearful devotions are a twisted and degraded replacement of the true sovereignty that arises from the wedding of the King to the land whose natural antecedent n today’s world would be our own marriage to the land (which I wrote about in my essay, Winter Born, last year).

But order in the living world is fluid and dynamic, not fixed and rigid. The wild will always disrupt the existing order – as it has this year with plague and storm and fire. So, too, will flashes of the divine, which, by its very nature, dissolves boundaries and transgresses laws too small to contain its infinity.

The wild and the divine are not the enemies of the rational and the human. They seek not to destroy but to authentically integrate, the wild moving from below trying to invite the human to loosen its constriction and dance, the divine working from above trying to help the human see beyond the boundaries of the beliefs that shape its perceptions. They seek to embrace the human, but the dissociated part of the human is afraid, so it flees from them or fights them.

When the real world cracks our ideological armor, some take it as an opportunity to slip the cage and stumble awkwardly into freedom on legs wobbly from disuse. But others seek to glue the armor back together, which breeds psychosis in its traditional sense of an internally consistent but externally false vision of the world.

Both individual and collective psychosis amplify the virtue and power of the Archon they embrace and the evil and power of the Beast they oppose, heightening the stakes of the cosmological battle between the two, and reinterpreting real world events in increasingly strange terms to fit their failing and collapsing totalizing vision. The right lurches toward Fascism. Both orthodox and unorthodox religious movements gravitate toward fundamentalism. A left disappointed by the masses’ lack of enthusiasm for its utopian vision fetishizes the guillotine and unconsciously replicates the historical examples of Stalinist purges and Maoist “cultural revolution” first with social sanctions and then with more direct violence. Hippies and New Agers get swept up in a strange amalgamation of all of the above. Everyone awaits victory in the final battle. None of them are ready to meet the Beast they see coming with compassion or curiosity.

But what if the Beast really is a beast? Its roughness its wildness, its beastliness its animality? What if it is our own collective caged animal self seeking to slip its bonds and become part of the living world again?

It is through the authentic pleasure of our animal selves that we are able to experience our own infinity and divinity (and the infinity and divinity of everyone and everything around us.) in ways that the thought and language can never fully describe.

But those judgments which our minds place on our animal selves imbue them with the shame, fear, and guilt which are fed life force every time we repeat those judgments, cursing our own bodies and the body of the world. We lock away the wild, and in doing so, separate ourselves from the divine. And from each other.

When the wild again awakens within us, at first it is like a caged beast breaking free that remembers its pain and its terror before it remembers its magnificence. How can we approach it? The same way we would approach a frightened animal.

Think of a frightened dog. If you run, it will chase you. If you fight, it will bite you. If you are rigid and afraid, being met by fear will amplify the dog’s fear.

But if you let go your tension, get down close to the ground, and speak in low, soft tones, curiosity will slowly replace the fear, and affection will arise from the curiosity.

So it is with the wildness moving within us and the wildness moving in those around us. This wildness is the rough beast that slouches toward Bethlehem to be born as we approach a Winter Solstice that will bring generous Jupiter and Saturn, keeper of cosmic time, together as one bright blazing star in our sky.

How we meet that beast will determine the nature of the meeting.

Let us meet it with love.

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