“The Archetypal Scapegoat” – Part Two: Behold the High Priest

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High Priest Offering a Sacrifice of a Goat
(illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop. Treasures of the Bible. International Pub. Co., 1894.)

 

In “The Archetypal Scapegoat Part One” I explored evidence suggesting that the archetype of the Scapegoat was at work in Britain at the moment and the processes invoked when this occurs. This piece is the first step into the detail of the archetype as a whole and how it expresses itself in human terms.

 

The Scapegoat Archetype emerges during times of disruption and change, where those values we thought established and permanent suddenly fall apart and tumble us into confusion and uncertainty. It is a collective as well as a personal experience and is evoked as result of splitting that which was previously a ‘wholeness’ that served the community. Something ‘vital’ has failed and the community is suddenly unstable, vulnerable and endangered.

 

Instability forms a natural part of life but it also triggers terrible anxiety within the human collective. Suddenly, life is no longer ‘safe’ and our very survival is threatened. This survival may be our very life itself or it may be those things we rely upon to keep us safe. When this occurs, we reach out for that which might re-establish safety. It is within this frightening confusion that the Scapegoat archetype emerges. We look to remove the source of instability from within ourselves or our community through both sacrifice and expulsion.

 

At its deepest levels, the Scapegoat Ritual is sacred. It is about our relationship with ‘God’ and therefore, in human terms, requires a representative. Within the ‘primitive’ feelings aroused by threats to our survival, there is a sense that the community has ‘sinned’ and some form of atonement is necessary to heal the apparent rift. The vehicle for the solution is provided by the role of the High Priest and the purpose of the ritual is to realign the community with an offended God. The word ‘priest’ derives from the word ‘pontifex’, meaning ‘to bridge or to be a bridge’ between the sacred and secular. The priest, king or judge mediates between God and the community saying “this is what God wants from you” and the Scapegoat ritual forms part of the framework that renews the community through the ritual cleansing of sins. The Scapegoat archetype represents a cyclical recognition that something within us, both individually and collectively, is not ‘fit’ to be ‘at-one’ with the Deity; that somehow the community has offended ‘God’ and some sacrifice is required.

 

The vital essence of the ritual is that all aspects are sacred and therefore of great worth. This includes the priest, the sacrifice and the exile, all of whom contribute to the cleansing and healing of the community as a whole in order to realign it to the divine. If the divine quality is absent, what occurs instead is an incredibly destructive psychological pathology that affects both individuals and community alike. The split is not healed but heightened. When this occurs, we are not dealing with priests but persecutors and the sacrifices become victims.

 

Whilst the example of Andrew Mitchell at the Downing Street gate was the initial inspiration for this series of blogs, that event actually forms part of a far larger problem whose roots disappear back into history. If I were to look for a deeper cause for the appearance of the Scapegoat, I would probably look to the continuing collapse of the British economy. When an accustomed economy – which could be seen as the sharing out of resources – collapses, it is inevitable that community will feel that its survival is threatened. Individuals will experience deep feelings of shared helplessness, rage, fear, wrongness, anger, shame, guilt, madness together with a desire for perfection, rightness and redemption. In Britain, the economic high priests prescribed austerity (sacrifice) for the community which apparently seems to have resulted in a form of economic exile for those outside the world of high finance. The ‘priests’ have driven out those who do not ‘belong’ through economic persecution of the community as a whole up to and including human sacrifice, despite clear evidence that alternatives can be proven to exist elsewhere. This is part of the backdrop to GateGate.

 

“Within all of us is the capacity to turn our inner scapegoat into a persecutor, even if it is only a snide remark about someone we deem to be inferior to ourselves”

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

 

When the sacred is missing from the scapegoating dynamic, we are in the realm of human pathology. The three roles remain but they sink into unhealthy versions of the persecutor, victim and rescuer. Because the dynamic represents a whole, each role is fluid and people shift from one to another depending upon the circumstances. None of us are exempt from this. When we identify with the persecutor, we are declaring that we know the difference between right and wrong. The inherent assumption is, because we can discern this difference, we are empowered to act upon our knowledge. The persecutor claims the moral high ground of ‘rightness’ and persecutes those they perceive as having violated this. It is a grandiose position that self-righteously claims the power to punish the violators. We are all subject to this, including me.

 

From personal experience, this persecutor is triggered by my own moral or ethical value system or ‘god’. When I see a clear transgression, I become outraged. It is an immediate and primitive reaction where I am wholly right and the ‘sinner’ is wholly wrong and I can be just as unpleasant as Andrew Mitchell is alleged to have been. The only thing that can interrupt this compulsion – for a compulsion it surely is – is to become conscious of it. There are a number of ways this can occur; for example, an input of facts can assist. In GateGate, I found the law itself to be helpful because, for the most part, healthy law is created by cool minds informed by warm hearts whereas my internal avenging persecutor is undoubtedly has a hothead and no heart for my victim. Another failsafe is to realise that my own behaviour now falls outside my own standards for moral or ethical behaviour. We are all capable of such transgressions when caught up in the complex of the persecutor-victim and we can only rescue ourselves, and our community, by becoming aware of it. Without doubt, we are all at our worst when we become self-righteous and claim the moral high-ground in order to visit calamity upon others. Becoming conscious of these aspects of self is our only means of redemption from such compulsions because the moment we acknowledge them, we shift the emphasis from the secular to the sacred. Redemption can only ever belong to the sacred because it requires us to forgive others as well as ourselves. Once that shift has been made, we open up the potential for creative solutions to the ethical and moral issues at the source of the problem. We deflate our over-inflated egos and begin to identify with the helpless victim, the scapegoat, within as well as the high priest seeking to heal the rift between values and human behaviour.

 

The persecutor is identified with collective authority, collective values and collective tastes; with whatever constitutes the highest values (the sacred) of both society and the individuals that make up that society. There is a psychological security in such values that only becomes apparent when they are threatened. When they become rigid and tyrannical, it creates a disastrous split within the community which, if unexamined, can result in the worst excesses of scapegoating humanity is capable of and the damage is inflicted by the unconscious persecutor in each and every one of us.

 

“If a nation is comprised of deeply unconscious individuals, that nation with enact… in very literal and compulsive ways. If a national has a certain percentage of relatively conscious individuals, the outcome is not so predictable. None of us, as individuals, can instantly affect world events, and we may all become victims of a collective eruption. But if our values, beliefs and actions are formulated from a place of individual consciousness rather than a place of mass unconsciousness, we do ultimately affect the future, and we can discover specific areas in our lives where we can do something constructive – even if our children and grandchildren, rather than we ourselves, are the beneficiaries of our efforts.” (ibid)

 

The shifting of roles within this fluid dynamic – where we can all become high priests, sacrifices and exiles; persecutors, victims and rescuers – needs to be understood in order to be able to grasp how the complex affects us. To do this, we have to understand next role; the sacrifice. This will be the subject of the next piece.

 

 

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