“The Archetypal Scapegoat” – Part One: The Collective versus Andrew Mitchell

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Anyone following recent UK news will be aware of #GateGate and those who aren’t can simply search the name “Andrew Mitchell – UK MP” to find out more. What people may find, if they do take the trouble to look, is that the story is darkening into forms of ‘character assassination’. This might well be expected, given that the police officers involved appear to have been abandoned by their Chief Constable, Bernard Hogan-Howe, which carries the implication that they may have been lying about the events they recorded. For some reason, the police have been deemed unworthy of defence, whereas Mitchell’s ‘sin’ is seen as ‘forgiveable’.

For anyone with an interest in how mythic or archetypal patterns impact upon the collective human psychology, what is occurring is starting to look like a classic case of scapegoating. Before everyone leaps onto the ‘blame game’ bandwagon and starts tossing the word about in the hope of strengthening their own argument, it might be useful to understand how this archetypal pattern actually works. Any failure on our part to do this is liable to have very serious implications for everyone – when the spectre of collective scapegoating appears, everyone is in danger.

Whilst the most familiar scapegoat ritual can be found in the Hebraic book of Leviticus, it is important to remember that the Scapegoat is an archetype – a human pattern found in most cultures. It is a model of behaviour within the human collective as a whole, not just the Hebrew, and it tells the tale of what happens when communities are polarised into ‘us and them’. At this point, it becomes a psychological ‘complex’. But let’s start with the ritual itself and, because it has been written down, the information is drawn from Leviticus.

The Scapegoat Ritual

“The Hebraic image of the scapegoat is connected with the ritual of atonement. This extremely ancient ritual involved two goats. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, one goat was dedicated to Yahweh and was killed as a sin-offering, so that its blood might cleanse and make sacred the sanctuary, tabernacle and altar. In Leviticus 16:16 we are told that the blood of this goat placated the angry god and atoned for the “uncleanness” of the people, “for their transgressions and for all their sins”. The goats’ remains were treated as unclean and were burned outside the boundaries of the community. The other goat was expelled from the community and was dedicated to Azazel, a chthonic god who was later considered to be a fallen angel. Over this goat’s head, the high priest confessed all the transgressions of the people, laying them to the goat’s charge. The living goat was then taken away and sent out into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:22 tells us, “And the goat will bear all their faults away with it to a desert place.” The blood of the sacrificed goat thus atones and purifies, while the wandering exiled goat removes the taint of guilt. As sin-bearer, it carries the confessed evils away from the community – or, in psychological terms, away from the collective consciousness. The “scape” in “scapegoat”, by the way, is a contraction of the word “escape”: the goat who escapes.”

(From “The Dark of the Soul” by Liz Greene: CPA Press 2003; ISBN: 978-1-900869-28-7)

With knowledge of the disputed ‘facts’ and the undisputed emotions swirling around, the connections between GateGate and the scapegoat complex begin to become self-evident. For example, one party to the events – represented by the police officers involved – had recently experienced the psychological impact of the murder of two officers in cold blood. With the very deepest of respects to the Spirits of both Nicola Bone and Fiona Hughes, this looks like a blood sacrifice to me. When we refer to the ritual, the blood sacrifice “was killed as a sin-offering, so that its blood might cleanse and make sacred the sanctuary, tabernacle and altar”. I have no idea whether this might be true in this particular case and it is inappropriate to explore such a possibility here because the whole matter is now subjudice. Nevertheless, there are cases elsewhere that show perpetrators of such murders exhibiting this belief of their roles very clearly.

Bearing in mind that the ritual is involved with community atonement, we might wonder what transgressions or sins the police could have committed in the collective ‘mind’ to warrant such a sacrifice. Regrettably, we don’t have to look very far for a potential collective reason. Given that within the ritual, there are two goats, the sacrifice and the exile, the very close timing of GateGate and the increasing public pressure for Andrew Mitchell’s resignation, dismissal or departure from government fits the pattern of the exiled sin-bearer. Someone needs to carry the sins into the wilderness so the collective can be properly cleansed and everyone ‘can forget about it’ until the next atonement is required. The problem is that all this is occurring in a secular setting. That these elements of the scapegoating are now apparent within UK politics does not bode well for the people of Britain as a whole.

This exploration of the Scapegoat dynamic aims to bring as much information about what we may all be dealing with into the collective consciousness. When we are aware of the dynamic in both ourselves and our community, we create opportunities for making different choices in how we tackle the problem. A refusal of awareness is extremely dangerous for everyone concerned. Without respecting the sacred aspect, the ritual deteriorates into the worst manifestations of both individual and collective persecutor/victim dynamic. I am deeply grateful to Liz Greene for clarifying this so clearly:

“All the characters within the dynamic of any complex are secretly interchangeable. They are all part of a unity and are inseparable. A society or an individual, in order to preserve stability, must repress, exclude, limit or expel those elements which constitute a threat to that stability. The rebellious, outlaw, “different”, inferior element – the scapegoat element – is part of the same entity as the persecutor…

The scapegoat complex always involves shadow projection. Whatever we deem to be sinful, wicked or inferior within ourselves or society, we tend to project on someone “outside”. The religious context of the ancient scapegoat ritual required the community to be conscious of its shadow, and the sacrificial goat, rather than carrying the shadow projection of the group, was a consciously chosen symbol meant to enact in ritual form the need for collective expiation. But the scapegoat complex as we see it exhibited in ordinary life has lost this connection with communal responsibility to God. The scapegoat, whether an individual or a group, is not a consciously chosen symbol, but is perceived as sinful, wicked or inferior because she or he carries the projection of the unconscious and unacceptable aspects of the persecutor. And the persecutor, in turn, carries the unconscious aggression and power-drive of the individual who is identified with the scapegoat who feels unable to fight back. That is why, in individual terms, they always find each other.

The issue with all complexes is how much we identify with them. Everyone has complexes and so does every collective. And it is possible that the scapegoat pattern, when it is not compulsive, may take quite a different form and generate many positive and creative expressions, not least in the helping and healing professions.  But unconscious identification turns a complex into a compulsion and, in turn, into fate…

When scapegoating occurs on a collective level, it is absurd to talk about individual responsibility or individual identification with a pattern. When great eruptions occur, the individual is subsumed and may be scapegoated whether or not there is any individual predisposition for it… Such events, like the Holocaust, are part of an unleashing of a collective process of scapegoating and we are not individually culpable. Yet, ultimately, as a collective, we all carry the responsibility.” (ibid)

If there is any accuracy to my concerns about a collective outbreak of British scapegoating, it becomes vital that as many of the affected individuals become aware of how the complex operates within their own personal psyche. Awareness is unlikely to affect the immediate impact of the complex which, from my own experience, can be visceral and compulsive; what it does offer is the capacity to reflect upon our own reactions in order to compensate for our personal failings. It brings the roles of persecutor and scapegoat into perspective where we can balance both the rational and irrational within ourselves. The greater the number of conscious individuals within the collective, the greater the opportunity the same collective has to avoid further repetitions of collective insanity or so the theory goes.

In Part Two, I will explore the role of the High Priest or persecutor which has a particularly compulsive quality, especially when we are faced with what appears to be the sins of others.

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