Re-Imagining the Apocalyptic

Earlier today in a conversation with a friend, she mentioned that she doesn’t want to feed into apocalyptic consciousness. And I suddenly became aware of just how apocalyptically conscious I am. I might be a member of the last generation to have a choice in the matter, actually. And although I can see how getting attached to the apocalyptic can be detrimental, I’d say that much of the drama invoked has the potential for constructive re-birthing of our entire paradigm — if we can harness the energies.

I often hear people downplaying or detaching from the current state of the world, which in my eyes is in a state of spiritual crisis. They point to the fact that at any given point in history there’s pretty much been some group who has thought that the end was nigh. The conversation quickly swings towards an insinuation that apocalyptic thinking and thinkers are being over dramatic.

There’s a lot of truth to that. Throughout history, humanity has faced various crises that churn up chaos or conflict at physio-psycho-spiritual levels. It would indeed appear that we are once again facing such a crisis. I’d say that this time is a bit different, however. The threat of the end of the world is no longer just an ambiguous idea.

This time around we’ve not only engineered and facilitate several ways of wiping ourselves out, but we have technology that allows us to view the images of our own destruction at a scale never before seen. The modern psyche is increasingly subjected to apocalyptic memes and the accompanying images of war, genocide, nuclear and ecological holocaust, threats to our food and water supplies, and so on. To some, that is over-dramatic. To me, it’s just a realistic outlook.

Spirituality, now largely synonymous with religion, once provided tools for contextualizing and navigating such global catastrophes, be they literal or metaphorical, in a way that allowed individuals to find meaning within chaos and suffering, allowing them to move through it. Now, spirituality is increasingly stigmatized as the modern worldview largely dismisses the irrational, fluid aspects of the psyche as invalid — and antithetical to the ‘progress at all costs’ mentality — even though most of our experience falls under the umbrella of consciousness. Instead, we tend to orient towards science and consumerism, often with the same fervor of fundamentalism and black-and-white thinking that we so condemn in religious folk.

The Enlightenment was a fantastic time of paradigm change — that whole switch from the geocentric to heliocentric worldview was very necessary, as were advances in our understanding of the way the world works. But the Enlightenment era also concretized consciousness as a strictly rational process. And although the Romantic period saw a swing back in the other direction, at this point the linearity and normalization of experience have replaced natural cycles of initiation, encouraging us to ignore the fact that so much of our experience is fluid and dynamic and changing and not quantifiable or categorizable.

This denial of the ambiguity inherent to our experience has left our culture largely lacking ways of navigating what I see as a global initiatory rite of passage. Instead, we tend to become psychically numb.

So yeah, all of that sounds very much in line with apocalyptic consciousness. But here’s the thing about the ‘consciousness’ aspect of that label: mythology tells us that apocalyptic descent does not end with dismemberment, death and destruction; rather, it helps us to bring the light of consciousness to the dark times. The hero goes into the underworld only to emerge with new knowledge that serves as a boon to the community — with increased consciousness of something that can help. Persephone is taken to the underworld as a maiden and returns to the surface with a woman’s knowledge that (long story short) brings fertility to the land.

An understanding of this cycle of return, regeneration and creativity is largely lacking from the modern experience. Go to Google Images and type in ‘apocalypse’ and all you’ll see is images of zombies, darkness and demolished cities. Watch the news — it’s mostly bodies, war zones, Ebola, the melting of the ice caps, or the death of a beloved celebrity who has succumbed to their own battle with darkness.

Distilled within these apocalyptic images lies the question of how, or whether, to deal with the grief, fear and despair that are evoked. On a more philosophical level, the questions emerge: do we put our faith in science or in god? Is humankind inherently geared toward seeking progress at all costs in a quest to dominate the Earth? Are we destined to fall into suffering, eternally waiting to be saved by a source outside of ourselves? Will activism help? Soul work? Meaning-making? Can we greet whatever path we’re called to with the knowledge that we still might fail, that the world still might ‘end’?

So how do we re-imagine apocalypse? How do we engage the creative and constructive parts of the cycle so that we can, as individuals and as a culture, emerge with more sustainable ways of existing on the Earth?

Well, I have some ideas about that. If you guessed that they include the use of astrology, ritual, dreams, unconventional relationship models, and anything that helps us come to terms with and understand the imagery of our own psyches, you’re on to something. These are all themes I hope to explore here in the future.

But what it really comes down to at this moment is summed up by the cycle of apocalypse as seen in the mythology of the world: there is indeed descent and dismemberment, but there is also return, regeneration, creativity, and forward movement. Sometimes I think we’ve been stuck in the descent phase ever since World War II, so afraid and overwhelmed of what we found in the shadowy recesses of the collective that we shut down — denying, repressing, avoiding.

Perhaps apocalyptic thinking is dramatic — but I think it has to be. And that energy can be used to create something new if we can just face the dark and then help each other through to the other side.