Sep 16, 2014

A Little Village in Gaul

These past few years my life has been taking me on a very strange journey, a journey across space and time that brings together elements that might at first seem so disparate. This journey has followed the footsteps of Mediterranean seafarers, but not in a way that mainstream historians would regard them. These master sailors ranged from modern Lebanon to the North Sea, from Egypt to the Azores and probably even America. They have appeared in many guises, and are likely not all of the same origin. There are, however, so many threads connecting them all that it is impossible to ignore them.

What I would say is the central thread is the downright weirdness that seems to accompany them wherever they go, something very Mysterious. It is exactly because of this that we don't read much about this in high school textbooks - but it is nonetheless absolutely essential if one is to understand just what the hell has been going on in human history. We usually take it for granted that humanity, slowly and gradually, has made discoveries and inventions, a bit out of the blue as it were. Doesn't it seem odd, though, that evolution has worked in a timescale of millions of years, yet we have moved from cave-dwellers to astronauts in practically the blink of an eye?

What has made this perfectly clear to me is the study of astrology. It becomes clear at first that, though the details are far from worked out, there is definitely something there. But it doesn't take long before you start to wonder how the hell we came upon such knowledge in the first place. There is absolutely no way that this was accomplished through mere observation, especially considering how hard it was to preserve knowledge thousands of years ago.

One of the earliest recorded mentions of astrology comes from a tablet describing a dream of the Sumerian ruler Gudea of Lagash, in which the gods revealed to him the means to study the heavens to favor the construction of a temple. And this sort of account is absolutely everywhere. It seems pretty clear to me that most of our knowledge has been acquired not by recording and experimenting but by contacting the gods themselves.

Now, we can debate about who or what the 'gods' actually are, but from the Mystery cults of the Mediterranean, through the old Gnostic religions and up to more modern groups such as secret societies and spiritualists, there is something fleeting that calls our attention and begs us to find out more. It is, however, too much for a deep immersion into the technical and the factual. These people have always made it a point to shroud themselves in secrecy. Perhaps then we might get some ideas if we approach the issue tangentially, studying not history books or religious texts, but comics, a medium that is familiar to visionary artists.

But you can get your Jack Kirby fix over at the Secret Sun. Here we're going to take a look at the travels of the most famous Gaul around, Asterix.

Asterix and Obelix is a French 'bande dessinée'* comic series created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, which follows the exploits of the titular characters, who are part of the last village in Gaul to have resisted the advance of the Archons Roman Empire. They achieve that thanks to a magic potion concocted by the village druid that gives them superhuman strength. The magic potion in and of itself is enough to go on, but let's take a look at who these Gauls really were.

The Gauls were a Celtic people who lived mostly in what today is France. France, of course, is no stranger to cultures associated to mystery cults, having been the home of the Cathars, the Normands, and others. From Wiki: "[D]uring the 7th and 6th century presumably representing an early form of Continental Celtic culture, the La Tène culture arises, presumably under Mediterranean influence from the GreekPhoenician, and Etruscan civilizations". 

So triple check on the seafaring Mediterraneans then. And who were the Gauls' main adversaries? The Romans, of course, who have terrorized their fair share of mystery cults, whether under the order of the Roman emperor or of the Pope. The bird chosen to represent France nowadays is the rooster, a figure which is certainly very familiar to those who hang out in occult circles. The same rooster appears under the guise of Abraxas, a common figure in Gnostic texts. I should also add that the Portuguese word for rooster is 'galo'.

In the comic series, the chief of the village, in the original French, is called Abraracourcix - a name which clearly resonates Abraxas. It is also interesting that the Gauls use round winged helmets, which allude (intentionally or not) to the Winged Disk:

The thought that led me to this post was that the names of the main characters are, essentially, Asterisk and Obelisk, and you might have seen that combo around in the Egyptian hieroglyph that represents Sirius. In the glyph the obelisk represents Osiris and the asterisk, or star, none other than Horus himself.

Obelix, Asterix's companion, is frequently seen lugging around a menhir, or large standing stone, which you might have seen, oh, all along the Mediterranean coast, from the obelisks of Egypt to the stone circles of Britain. The deal with Obelix is that, as a child, he fell in a cauldron of magic potion, and thus has superstrength on a permanent basis, with the caveat that he can't drink any more potion. In other words, we have someone who fell and came back with new characteristics - just like Osiris. As an interesting aside, the god most frequently invoked in the comics is Toutatis: "victims sacrificed to Teutates were killed by being plunged headfirst into a vat filled with an unspecified liquid."

The cherry on top is Obelix's dog, Idéfix - Sirius is, after all, the dog star.

In each comic book, the heroes set off (often by boat) to distant lands across the Mediterranean coast, visiting the old stomping grounds of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Normans, and so on. The first ones are pretty standard fare, but they start to get weirder and weirder, featuring magic carpets, UFOs and Atlantis. This became pronounced especially after the death of co-creator René Goscinny. What about Albert Uderzo then?

Uderzo is not originally French (he was naturalized later on), but an immigrant from northern Italy, specifically the town of Oderzo in the province of Treviso - a stone's throw from the city of my mother's grandparents, near Venice. It doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to connect Venice to Phoenicia - coastal cities where trade and mystery cults boomed. Brazil's famous carnival is a descendant of the Venice carnival, which itself is a remnant of the old Saturnalia and Lupercalia festivals.

The Venetian coat of arms, featuring a winged lion with a crescent on its head, seemingly delivering knowledge

Many wonder if, in fact, the Phoenicians weren't the first Western people to arrive in South America. I've heard persistent rumors that any Phoenician artifacts that have been found in Brazil have been shipped off to distant warehouses, presumably so that the history of the country, and therefore the national myth, don't have to be rewritten - after all, if historians are wrong about this, what else are they wrong about?

The name 'Brazil' comes from brazilwood, a reddish wood found locally, which was extensively traded in the form of red dye. Red dye, of course, was something the Phoenicians themselves were particularly fond of. The root 'BR' is related to 'fire' or 'ember', and can be found in various languages: brun in French, braun in German, or brown in English, the color of burnt; brasa in Portugese and Spanish, or brazier in English. My own name, Bruno, has two possible origins - either 'brown' or 'brilliant', in both cases of Germanic origin. Both are, in fact, the same, deep down. My full name transliterates to "fire of the saints of the coast".

My gut feeling is that the Hi-Brazil story of Irish legend can be traced back to stories of these old Phoenician travels - they traded all the way up to Ireland, after all. But why this big aside? One of the more recent comics, Asterix and the Falling Sky was dedicated to Uderzo's late brother Bruno. It was the 33rd comic in the series.

The title is a reference to a frequent expression used by the Gauls: their only fear is that "the sky will fall on our heads." However, the 'sky' indeed falls, in the form of a ball-of-light UFO. I haven't been able to get a hold of the comic yet, so I can't go into much detail, but we can see a few strange things are afoot. The comic is ostensibly a reaction to the invasion of Japanese manga in France in the 2000s, and the aliens apparently a parody of the US, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that.

The story is that aliens come to Earth because of the Gaul druid's magic potion, which is "famous throughout the Universe." The evil aliens Nagmas want to learn its secrets and weaponize it, while the alien Toon, who arrives in a "spaceship resembling a gigantic yellow sphere", seeks to the destroy it. The magic potion, however, makes the Gauls immune to the aliens' weapon, and they are easily dispatched. As he leaves, Toon erases everyone's memories of the events, supposedly because he was embarrassed at having turned into a giant upon drinking the magic potion.

There are several references to anime and manga, but it seems Uderzo seems to have struck a deeper chord, probably unintentionally. The aliens each have several identical henchmen: golden-armored rat robots called Goelderas on one side, and Supermen stand-ins on the other. Basically, then, Earth is the site of the battle of two alien races, one polarized positively, the other negatively. You don't have to be Giorgios Tsoukalos to make connections here.

Uderzo clothes this in references to Japanese manga and American imperialism, but the undertone is what's really interesting. He seems to treat the whole episode as an aside due to the presence of extraterrestrials, who conveniently erase everyone's minds, just as Hergé did in his Tintin comic Flight 714 to Sydney. That seems to be an awful lot of trouble for a giggle.

But there's more, of course. In All at Sea, a group of slaves, led by a caricature of Kirk Douglas's Spartacus, rebel and manage to capture Julius Caesar's prize ship. Where do these these slaves hail from, you ask?

They ultimately decide to make way to the Gauls' village, since it's the only place they know of that is not under Roman control. Meanwhile, back in the village, Obelix is upset that the druid refuses to allow him to drink the magic potion, so he waits until they are all gone and swallows the entire cauldron. This, however, causes him to turn to granite.

As one of the characters notes, Obelix has become stoned after drinking too much magic potion. One might expect that this occurred quite frequently when initiates into mystery cults were overeager and consumed too much of whatever entheogen was used, thus reaching a sort of catatonic state. Afterwards, Obelix returns to a human state, but he has become a child. So here we have Obelix once again resonating Osiris, 'dying' and 'coming back to a new life'.

The druid suggests they set sail for Atlantis, where he imagines they will have a cure for Obelix's condition. According to him, "the Atlanteans are descended from a very ancient civilization far more advanced than our own." After a series of naval snafus, they arrive, and are immediately greeted by children riding dolphins. This reminds me of a story I once heard about Atlantis: supposedly, the hyper-advanced Atlanteans tinkered with the DNA of dolphins and whales, allowing their bodies to receive more advanced, self-aware souls.

After landing, they are greeted by more children, including centaurs. Their leaders explained that they were able to find a formula to turn any adult back into a child, and that all Atlanteans chose to do so. In other words, they found an elixir of eternal youth. This Atlantis also features flying cows and giant fruits, seemingly poking fun at all these "crazy stories", but you and I know it goes deeper than that. It's also curious that the boat the Gauls use to travel to Atlantis looks more like a Phoenician ship than a Roman ship, not to mention the masonic checkered gold-and-blue sail.

In another comic, Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield, Asterix and Obelix take the village chief to a distant spa to treat his aching liver. In this spa, the chief bathes, gets massages, and diets. These spas are descendants of the old Greek off-city sites dedicated to Asklepios, where people would go to be healed of their various physical and psychical ailments. Asklepios is, of course, intimately related to the serpent by way of the caduceus, serpents that feature of course in depictions of our old god Abraxas. The spa is run by another druid, called Diagnostix - 'diagnosis' meaning "to know through separation".

The plot in the comic spins around the famous Arvernian shield given up by Vercingétorix after the Romans defeated the Gauls, a shield which ended up with none other than chief Abraracourcix. Abraxas himself is frequently depicted carrying a round shield. To top it off, this round shield features a white five-pointed star, which will be familiar to anyone in the arms of Captain America. Asterix and Obelix also meet a store patron called, in the original French, Alembix, a reference to the alembic of traditional alchemical use.

There's obviously much, much more, but for now, I'll leave you with a message, a message to go out and find your own magic potion. As depicted in Dreamworks' Kung-Fu Panda, one of my favorite animations, there is no secret formula. The magic potion is merely a gateway to contact with the gods, these gods that have taught us all so much. Through the use of this potion, a potion that is different for each of us, we will be able to take a stand against the archonic forces that strive to maintain the status quo for control purposes. Be free and be your own, and get that cauldron started.

* literally "drawn strip", something I'm sure the Egyptians were acquainted with

Jan 26, 2014

Ender's Game: the Return of the Repressed

The appeal of science fiction, as opposed to contemporary or historical fiction, is that it offers the reader a objective 'space' between himself and the narrative. That is to say, setting a story in the future or in an alternate reality frees us from the biases of our 'collective present' or 'collective past'. So, for instance, if  the raw story of Ender's Game had taken place during World War II, even if the skeleton of the story were exactly the same, we would necessarily see it through the lens of history and apply the biases we've inherited. Jews or Germans who otherwise may have been put off by the context may appreciate it freely.

This is, of course, another way of stating the old axiom of science fiction, that it is about the present, not the future. The 'future' is merely the place from which we look back at ourselves. It is a tool that allows us to bypass the usual defense mechanisms, and it provides us with objectivity, much in the same way a psychotherapist does. So Ender's Game is a story about us, about now. It is a story about the return of the repressed and the search for the Self.

Before we dive into it, though, I suggest you take a look at the Fourfold Youniverse series (pts. 1 and 2) to get a basic idea of the fourfold functioning of the psyche. Here is a quick scheme - the four elements represent the four functions:

For those who don't know the story, here is a quick synopsis (very spoilery, but about the same as watching the movie in terms of being exposed to the plot twist).

The Earth is one day invaded by an alien* fleet, and all seems lost until a brave hero called Mazer Rakham sacrifices himself to disable the invaders. They are repealed, but this puts the powers-that-be on Earth on high alert. They create a training program wherein they abduct, to use a relevant term, the brighest and ablest children on Earth, and send them to a boot camp where they will be trained in space warfare, to prepare for the inevitable return of the non-descript "Buggers" ("Formics" in the movie).

Andrew Wiggin - Ender - is one such child. His older brother Peter and older sister Valentine were rejected from the program for being, respectively, too brutish and too loving. Ender, however, demonstrates incredible boldness and strategic acumen. He shoots up the ranks, watched over by Col. Graff. Eventually, he graduates and is taken to his real training, where he and his fellows confront simulated scenarios.

All the while, however, Ender is tormented by feelings of isolation, and his siblings are always in his mind. His playing of a "mind game" - an attempt by the military psychologist to keep track of his psyche - eventually leads him to having visions of the Bugger queen. As his training advances, he discovers not only that Mazer Rakham may not have been quite who he thought, but also that the army is preparing not for an eventual attack, but for a pre-emptive attack on the Bugger homeworld, a "war to end all future wars".

The climax comes when Ender discovers that his training was not, as he thought, a simulation, but the actual battle taking place. He was, in truth, the commander of all of Earth's fleet. He had not destroyed a virtual planet but a quite real one. Needless to say, he is torn apart by the idea that he has committed genocide, and sets off to find a new planet for the queen egg he found thanks to his 'psychic' link with the former queen.

In sum, the turning point of the story is when Ender realizes that the war he had been fighting had not been for survival, but for satisfying the aggressive impulses (Aries) of Earth's leaders. That is to say, Ender is confronted with the 'morality vs. ethics' dilemma: do I do what I do because I believe it's right, or do I do it because that's what I'm told is right?

This dilemma is the central aspect of the story which will be psycho(astro)analyzed, and it is represented in the vertical axis of the above scheme, with the military signifying 'ethics' and the buggers signifying 'morality'. However, let's take a look at the auxiliating functions represented by Ender's older siblings.

Peter and Valentine Wiggin, having come before Ender, represent the 'already there' functions which Ender needs to develop. Peter is the unrefined animus: he was expelled from battle school because he could not control his aggressiveness; Valentine is the diametric unrefined anima: she did not go further in battle school because her aggression was too contained. This is why they appear in the horizontal axis: in an astro(psycho)logical chart, the Ascendant of a male human (Ender's case) signifies his animus/masculine side, and the Descendant his anima/feminine side.

They are attributed the 'adjectives'** of Cancer and Capricorn: Peter has a complete disregard for social norms and rules, whereas Valentine is too self-controlled - these are classic "dark sides" of the signs. They are, however, absolutely essential as Ender navigates the hierarchy of battle school. His path succeeds exactly because he is able to 'balance' (notice that Libra appears at the bottom) aggression and containment. His actions, though, are still at the service of his Aries 'masters' rather than of his Libra 'conscience'.

"My daddy's taller than your daddy!"

It is interesting to note that author Orson Scott Card was born during a T-square in the cardinal signs: Jupiter in Aries opposing Neptune in Libra, both making a square to Uranus in Cancer***. He was thusly, as a writer, a vehicle of sorts for the collective consciousness; Ender's Game is clearly more of a collective catharsis than a personal one, considering that Card's overt homophobia shows how he still has a long way to go when it comes to "refining the superego".

Returning to our scheme, now it's time to take another look at the top of the cross. Throughout the story, it is perfectly visible how Ender is a puppet of the military, personified by Col. Graff - visible except to himself, of course. This is a good example of the repressive action of the nomos/superego. Any questioning on Ender's part is quickly met with an answer about the "greater good". This is, in theory, a perfectly good answer, were it not for our propensity to throw the 'soul'-baby out with the 'unrefined impulses' water.

One of Ender's strategies as he climbs the military(/corporate) ladder is to beat his opponents in such a way that others will be afraid of making a move on him. As we know, though, as above, so below: he's just doing what 'mankind' as a whole is doing to the Buggers. In other words, what's taking place in the 'war theatre' is merely a reflection of what's going on in his 'mind's battleground'. So if the military signify the repressive and powerful, what 'shadow' do the Buggers come to mean?

Kafka would know

In psychoanalytic theory, the 'monsters' in our imagination represent the unacknowledged libidinal forces within an individual's psyche, whose appearance might upset the social or familial environment. A simple example is a little girl who has terrible nightmares about a werewolf after being repeatedly cut off from contact with her sensuality. Thus, the Buggers represent that aspect of Ender which has been repressed since before his birth - his thinking, peace-making function, represented by Libra.

Why do start the clock before his birth? If Ender had not been born at the time of the Bugger invasion, then this is an event that took part during his gestation: his mother's thinking function had been repressed (no dictator/"president" likes to be questioned) to an extent that the repression was transferred onto him during that pregnancy - after all, a baby is made up of the 'stuff' that its mother 'ingests' during pregnancy. It's worth noting Orson Scott Card was born in 1951, when the repression of thinking that was made necessary by WWII was still fresh in everyone's minds.

You don't have to be Freud, though, to know that our impulses can only be repressed for so long. The various neuroses that we see every day are reminders that, try as might to 'civilize' ourselves to the utmost, our 'dark sides' will not be denied. In Ender's case, his need to understand the Buggers so as to be able to defeat them shows how he started to 'rescue' his thinking function (his 'screw-the-system' Cancer Ascendant leads him naturally to his 'let's-think-first' Libra IC).

Ender's thinking function is also neatly represented in the "mind game" he plays in his free time. Ostensibly a way for the military to probe his mind, via a 'game' that plays out a bit like a Jungian active imagination: a scenario where the unconscious plays out. They were, though, like any good Aries, a bit too hasty, because the game ends up inadvertently bringing Ender into contact with his unconscious. They are a bit like parents who send their child to a psychotherapist in an attempt to control his behavior, without realizing that most of what he does in his sessions is criticize and question them.

And so, the Bugger queen inevitably appears in the mind game, and his thinking function begins to be brought out of the unconscious (where it was under the control of the nomos). Nevertheless, his "therapy" does not conclude before the human fleet is at the enemy gates. Here we have the nomos's last-gasp attempt at annihilating the instinct: the fleet completely destroys the Bugger planet. It's worth noting that the most destructive weapon ever built is called the "Little Doctor" - Ender, for all his power, is still subject to castration fears. Calling it the "Big Doctor" could invite the fury of a jealous colonel.

But of course, it's impossible to truly annihilate our instincts and our unconscious functions: the Buggers survive in the form an 'egg' containing a new, future queen. The difference, though, is that Ender has 'redeemed' his thinking function enough this time that his Cancer instinct (Ascendant) to nurture and protect can be correctly applied to both his 'inner-Peter/animus' and his 'inner-Valentine/anima'. His military training taught him the value of expressing his aggressively protective impulses, but it took "inner genocide" to teach him the value of expressing his self-controlled, rational side.

But if the Buggers initiated the conflict, how can they signify 'Libra-peace'? This point isn't really detailed in the movie, but the novel explains that the Buggers attacked only because they assumed that humans were not sentient because they did not express a collective consciousness like the hive-mind of the Buggers (thus the comparison to ants - "Formics") - that is, they 'thought' (Libra) about humans before they had the chance to have a 'real experience' (Cancer) of them. In other words, even the unconscious function of thinking needed some refinement of its own.

Yet we must not forget the value of the nomos. It is only thanks to his training and to the encouragement of his superiors that Ender is able to trust and access his intuition (Aries). Granted, the initial results were catastrophic, to say the least, but Ender will still have all of his strategic skills as he sets out to seek a new 'planet' for the Buggers. It is very easy to get caught up in the blame game and forget the fact that even peaceful countries need to have a standing army.

The role of the nomos is to provide us with the resources we need to carry out our lives, but Ender's Game reminds us that it is very important to allow the heiros, the connection to our Higher Self/greater-than-sum-of-parts-soul, to ask exactly whose battles we are fighting, lest we end up committing 'xenocide'. This term describes not only what the human military commit in the story, but also what our superegos attempt to do to our own primal instincts. The best they can do, though, is to repress (much like the Buggers cannot be truly annihilated) - and the repressed always returns, causing trouble that's proportional to the repression.

We must all be Enders then - to 'end' the dominance of arbitrary rules, and to 'end' the unrefinement of our unconscious functions. We try to play whack-a-forbidden-mole, but the minute the hammer comes down another mole pops up 'from the underground', as it were. If we allow our superiors to dictate our actions without balancing their 'orders' with our 'conscience', the only possible result is a "Bugger" invasion. Just ask Robert A. Heinlein.

* Ridley Scott knows all about the 'aliens' in our minds;

** If we were to make an analogy between the elements of a chart and the elements of syntax, we would have the houses as the archetypal 'nouns' of the zodiac, while the signs would be the 'adjectives' - thus, we can describe a 5th-house cusp in the sign of Taurus as "patient/slow self-expression";

*** Card's birth time is unknown, but my bet is that his Ascendant is somewhere in Cancer - probably near Uranus, given his propensity to shock the world with his homophobic views;