These are selected extracts from a longer article that appeared on September 21st 2017 on Rubedo Press – link can be found at the bottom of this page
Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi
GARY P. CATON.
ANTHROPOLOGISTS suggest it was a “creative explosion” of primal art, such as cave paintings and figurines, which formally marks the transition to what we consider to be modern humans during the upper Paleolithic period. So, it is first our image- and later our symbol-making capacities which stand out as distinctively modern human adaptations and characteristics.
[…]In the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a researcher is interviewed confessing that the lions painted on the walls of Chauvet cave had invaded their dreams with such a powerful and profound presence that they had to stop going inside the caves in order to process the profound emotions stirred by the experience. This encounter truly exemplifies the raw primal psychic potentials capable of evocation through images.
The zodiac itself is a circular image, the word in Greek meaning “circle of animals.” While the zodiac as a formal coordinate system originated with the Babylonians around the seventh-century BCE, it has been hypothesized that the 17,000 year old paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves represent the constellations in what could be described as a kind of proto-zodiac. This proto-zodiac hypothesis is difficult to prove, however it is generally accepted that at the very least the cave paintings represent a form of “sympathetic magic,” wherein painting the animal becomes a kind of spiritual communion between the souls of the animal and the painter.
Evidence suggests that early modern humans existed in an undifferentiated state of consciousness and lived by a worldview which anthropologists call animism. For these people, there was no separation between the spiritual and material worlds, and so animals were naturally seen to have souls too. In fact, in an animistic consciousness, everything has a soul—including rivers, mountains, valleys and plants, minerals, etc. So, the ritual act of creating the image of an animal is practiced to enable the artist to invoke the sympathy of the animal’s soul—either to gain its sacrifice in the hunt or to take on some of its attributes and power.
Perhaps this sympathetic magic is also partly what was intended in the creation of the zodiac, and helps explain its continued popularity. After all, who has not occasionally wanted to roar like a lion in the face of life’s trials?It is one thing to wistfully wish for the presence of one’s inner lion, or even to accidentally stumble upon and arouse it, but it is quite another thing altogether for someone to consciously and deliberately summon such a presence. Outside of a children’s story, many modern people might find the concept laughable. And yet, ironically, we can regularly see humans engaging in behaviors that make those of a wild lion seem almost tame.
Is it possible that suppression or repression of our more primordial urges has only fated us to become possessed by them, forcing them to reveal themselves to us in a more perverted form? […]
Philosopher Jean Gebser theorized that humanity has transitioned through several modes or structures of consciousness. The problem with what he calls the mental structure that humanity is transitioning away from is that it seeks to deny the other structures with its claim that humans should be exclusively rational. However the structure that we are transitioning toward is integral, and carries the need to “make present” all the various structures of awareness. When all structures are recognized and accepted this enables a person to see and live through the various structures simultaneously, rather than be subjected to, possessed or “lived by” one of them.
Perhaps this tells us that an openness to and understanding of an animistic perspective or worldview may help (or at least begin) to provide or reconnect us with conscious access to the ancient instinctive resources shared by all human beings, and might also help prevent these same instincts from taking over our lives through unconscious animalistic behaviors.
Although it is quite common for people today to think of god in terms of a trinity, it seems seldom that modern people dare to think of themselves, their lives or their world in these same terms. Yet, some familiar with more ancient forms of awareness know that animistic cultures have long considered there to be three worlds. In many ancient religious systems, there were three cosmic levels: not only heaven and earth, but an underworld as well. Rather than simply the nightmarish vision of hell imagined by Christianity, the underworld was seen by many cultures as a place of natural riches and ancestral wisdom. In this worldview, the axis mundi, the vertical feature of the cosmos, was seen to be at the center of the world and served to link together all three cosmic levels. This axis could be represented by various symbols such as a mountain, tree or ladder. From an animistic perspective, all three of these worlds are not only connected, but also accessible to, and indeed part of every human being.
From an animistic perspective, because there is no separation between the material and spiritual world, we can also conceive of three “selves” with which to navigate these three worlds. For the animist, what most people think of as their entire identity, the every- day awareness of the conscious ego, or what Kahuna shamans call the “talking self,” is actually far from the totality of being. Our “higher” spiritual self has access to transcendent spiritual wisdom, and our basic self accesses our “lower” animal/visceral intelligence, the instincts and inherited tribal wisdom that have kept us alive as a species for many millennia. From this perspective, the admonition to “know thyself” takes on new complexity. There is a need to comprehend, understand, and harmonize all three essential aspects of being human and to bring our three “selves” into alignment and integrated partnership.
In this way, the triple-alignments of Mercury, occurring in the same degrees and also linking the above and below, can become a kind of axis mundi—a sacred linkage, connecting the three worlds and three selves. Remember, from a visual standpoint, the image of Mercury’s retrograde journey is that of a disappearing act: from above to below, and back to above. Images often tell a story. The visual transformation process that Mercury performs every four months, of disappearing in the west and later re-appearing in the east, also happens to the other planets at various intervals and was mythologized by the Babylonians and Egyptians as the journeys of various gods through the underworld.
Of all the Greek gods, only Hermes was able to fully traverse the axis mundi and visit the heights of Mount Olympus as well as the depths of Hades. Sky astrologers can use these visual and mythical perspectives to better understand Mercury retrograde. After Mercury passes evening elongation, his highest appearance above the horizon in the west at dusk, he is in the process of slowing down and descending. Later he turns retrograde and becomes invisible, disappearing in the west. After making the invisible inferior (below) conjunction with the sun, Mercury re-appears in the east and then makes his highest appearance above the eastern horizon at morning elongation. Visually, Mercury is “switching skies,” appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.