Gemini (1): 'I Contain Multitudes'
|Gemini, by Dan Hodgkin
They came to the other side of the lake into the land of the Gerasenes, and no sooner was he out of the boat than a man with an unclean spirit approached him. This man was living among the tombs in the graveyard and he was so out of control that no one could subdue him or even chain him. In the past he’d been bound hand and foot, but he’d pulled the chains apart and smashed the shackles. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was crying out and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus in the distance he ran and fell on his knees, paying him homage and shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What’s your business with me, Jesus, son of God Most High? I beg you in God’s name don’t torment me!’ He said this because Jesus was ordering the unclean spirit to come out of him. Jesus asked, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; there’s a whole gang of us.’ He kept begging Jesus not to send them all out of that region.
There was a great herd of pigs feeding on the hillside, and the demons shouted out, ‘Send us into the pigs! We want to go into them!’ Jesus gave them permission, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand dashed headlong down the steep slope into the sea where they drowned. The herdsmen ran off and told the story so that people came from town and country to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and they looked at the man who’d been possessed by the legion of demons, and when they saw that he was now dressed and sane they were terrified. Those who had witnessed it related what had happened to the possessed man and to the pigs, and they began to implore Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. When he got into the boat, the man who’d been possessed begged that he might go along with him, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it, and said to him, ‘Go home to your family and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he’s taken pity on you.’ But the man went away and began to announce in the
what Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.
The teacher asked the class: ‘If all the good people in the world were blue and all the bad people
were yellow, what colour would you be?’
‘I’d be green,’ said Mary.
(This sermon was delivered in late May 2007)
Last week the Irish tabloids went to town on the case of a Catholic priest who had been tricked into revealing details of his homosexuality to a journalist. Pictures of the priest in his underpants appeared in the press midweek, and the poor man has had to take temporary leave of absence, but it is doubtful that he will ever be able to return to the parish that he has served so well for so many years. ‘I’m so ashamed says gay priest’, runs the headline in the Irish Daily Mail, and inside there is the regulation stuff about homosexuals in the clergy, and the Catholic Church’s celibacy laws, plus conflicting views about whether a man who has broken his vows is fit to minister. All perfectly predictable, of course, but the debate was given an added dimension because this man (whom I refuse to name) had been an exemplary pastor, much loved by his people, who, in a high profile incident four years ago, had been a source of comfort and solace to a young family who lost a child in tragic circumstances.
The Irish Daily Mail tried to be fair – in so far as devoting the front page and two inside pages to a case like this in which no laws have been broken can ever be considered fair – by printing an article by Roslyn Dee with the headline ‘This man needs sympathy not sanctimony’ to balance the ‘I’m sorry but his actions are sinful’ rant by Hermann Kelly. But the intention of this kind of journalism is always to leave us shaking our heads as we pose the question, ‘Can a man with unusual sexual tastes be a caring and effective counsellor and friend? Can a sinner be a good priest?’ ‘Is he this, or is he that?’ The answer is, he’s both, and a good deal besides. He’s a complicated, flawed human being, neither blue nor yellow, but green, just like you and me, just like the Sun journalist who ‘exposed’ him and who now can, presumably, sleep comfortably in his bed, secure in the knowledge that he has protected the community from yet another sex fiend, while at the same time banking a sizeable cheque from his editor.
How we long to sum someone up in a sentence or two, or even a word or two. But the fact is that we can’t really give a comprehensive definition of anybody. All of us, celebrity and nonentity alike, are a complex mixture of contradictory features. Mother Theresa, champion of the poor, supped with oppressive dictators; Gandhi, dedicated to celibacy, slept with young women ‘to test his resolve’; Dickens, whose works relentlessly attack cruelty and injustice, treated his first wife abominably; Hitler, the 20th century’s most reviled man, was a vegetarian and would weep at the music of Wagner; Martin Luther King, a contemporary saint and martyr, found it difficult to keep his trousers buttoned, as did the influential theologian Paul Tillich. When I spoke on this topic before – at the beginning of 2004 – the previous day’s paper, rather coincidentally, furnished two more examples: an article about Ronnie Biggs, the great train robber, written by his son, entitled, ‘My Beloved Father, the Train Robber’, and a review of a biography of Carl Jung, which appeared under the headline, ‘A Man in Two Minds’, told us that he was ‘never quite sure which of the two versions of himself he was most impressed by, the inspired, tormented eccentric, or the respectable, assured, bourgeois professional’. Jung, undoubtedly one of the most remarkable spiritual writers of modern times, was called by Freud ‘a snob and a mystic’ and Freud was right on both counts. Jung’s lifelong quest for God did not eliminate his equally lifelong obsession with glamorous cars.
Tolstoy, whose novels delineate human motivation with unparalleled sensitivity, was, we are told, quite indifferent to his wife and family, and Tolstoy himself expresses this paradoxical quality of the human being in his last novel, Resurrection:
One of the most widespread superstitions is that every person has his or her own special definite qualities: that he or she is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, and so on. People are not like that. We may say of a man that he is more often kind than cruel, more often wise than stupid, more often energetic than apathetic, or the reverse, but it would not be true to say of one man that he is kind and wise, and another that he is bad and stupid. And yet we always classify people in this way. And this is false........Every person bears within him or herself the germs of every human quality, but sometimes one quality manifests itself, sometimes another, and the person often becomes unlike him or herself, while still remaining the same person. (page 211)
To be human is to be complex and inconsistent, and one would expect that the spiritual writers of the past should be alert to such a conspicuous – and troublesome - feature of our nature. And so they are. Mark’s Gospel deals with it in the third section, what I have called the Gemini section, which would have been read and discussed at this time of the year, when the sun has entered the sign of Gemini. Gemini is the Twins, the first of those signs which modern astrologers call ‘Mutable’ – changeable – but which the ancient Greek writers called ‘two-bodied’. These signs – Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces – come in between the four seasons of the year and so each of them bears the qualities of two states of weather. Gemini comes between spring and summer, and has characteristics of both. Its symbol is the twin poles, joined at top and bottom, expressing the duality of the season and, according to the old theory, the duality inherent in all of us, but especially in those who are born at this time of the year.
The two stars of the constellation Gemini are Castor and Pollux which, in mythology were said to be the protectors of sailors. Homer wrote a poem to the ‘great twin brethren’, who, he said, would swiftly come to the aid of sailors in distress, lulling the storm and enabling the mariners to ‘plough the quiet sea in safe delight’. Now we can understand why Mark introduces this third section of his Gospel with the story of the Calming of the Storm. But this is not the story I want to concentrate on today (I’ll be dealing with it next week). Today I’m more interested in the episode which follows it, the story of the man possessed by 2000 demons, since this deals with the idea of human inconsistency in a particularly vivid way.
This man, often referred to as the Gerasene Demoniac, had been living among the tombs, and no one could bind him or restrain him. ‘What is your name?’ asks Jesus. The man’s reply is strange: ‘My name is Legion, for we are many,’ he says. Jesus casts out the demons, sending them into two thousand pigs which go hurtling down the steep bank and drown in the lake.
This incident with the pigs always used to trouble me, especially in former times when I believed that the Gospels were history of a sort; the story would probably vex animal rights activists even now. But I no longer waste my energies asking mundane, practical questions of spiritual stories. The story has no historical basis, but it does have a psychological one: this man with the demons is you and I. Each of us has a number of warring elements within our psyche, and the pig, which, according to the Book of Leviticus (11:17) is unclean to Jews because it has a split hoof, completely divided, symbolises this fragmentation; the division of the pig’s foot mirrors the multiple divisions in the human mind.
With the benefits of modern psychiatric knowledge, we cannot fail to see in the man with the two thousand demons an example of that most Geminian of conditions, schizophrenia, or split‑personality. In fact, the term ‘multiple‑personality’ would be a better description. This is an actual mental disorder, but we do not need to restrict the use of the term to describe those in whom the symptoms manifest so dramatically. We are all ‘split‑personalities’, since, as Aldous Huxley tells us, the complex human personality is made up of ‘a quite astonishingly improbable combination of traits’. He goes on:
Thus a man can be at once the craftiest of politicians and the dupe of his own verbiage, can have a passion, for brandy and money, and an equal passion for the poetry of George Meredith and under-age girls and his mother, for horse-racing and detective stories and the good of his country – the whole accompanied by a sneaking fear of hell-fire, a hatred of Spinoza and an unblemished record for Sunday church-going. (The Perennial Philosophy, page 48)
'at least 20 different people at once.'
The character and career of British publisher Robert Maxwell (born 10th June, 1923) provide a spectacular example of this. Following his death in November 1991, The Guardian newspaper printed an assessment of the man by British journalist Geoffrey Goodman. Goodman asked how it had been possible for Maxwell to fool so many people for so long. He continues:
My own theory from observations of the man at close quarters during the year and a half I worked for him at the Daily Mirror is that he was at all times at least 20 different people at once. It was usually impossible to know which one I was dealing with at any one moment ‑ and I later came to the conclusion that he wasn't sure either. The 20 different personalities were in constant struggle with each other..... (6th December, 1991)
The practitioners of Assagioli's system of personality integration, Psychosynthesis, often refer to the crowd‑like nature of the human psyche. And Geminian Salman Rushdie (born 19th June, 1947), writes:
O, the dissociations of which the human mind is capable, marvelled Saladin gloomily. O, the conflicting selves jostling and joggling within these bags of skin. No wonder we are unable to remain focused on anything for long; no wonder we invent remote-control channel-hopping devices. If we turned these instruments on ourselves we’d discover more channels than a cable or satellite mogul ever dreamed of. (The Satanic Verses, page 519)
Peter Ouspensky, who was a disciple of the Russian mystic Gurdieff, likens the ordinary human being – you and me – to a house full of servants without a master or a steward to look after them. ‘So, the servants do what they like; none of them does his own work. The house is in a state of complete chaos, because all the servants try to do someone else’s work which they are not competent to do. The cook works in the stables, the coachman in the kitchen, and so on. The only possibility for things to improve is if a certain number of servants decide to elect one of themselves as a deputy steward and in this way make him control the other servants. He can do only one thing: he puts each servant where he belongs and so they begin to do their right work.’ This, says Ouspensky, is the beginning of the creation of a ‘controlling I’; until that time we are a great many disconnected I’s, divided into certain groups, some of which don’t even know each other.
Walt Whitman (born May 29th) puts it more succinctly than all of them:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
(Leaves of Grass)
|Walt Whitman: 'I contain multitudes'
We can all say, ‘My name is Legion’ with the demon-possessed man, or ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’ with Walt Whitman. ‘When a man lacks discrimination, his will wanders in all directions, after innumerable aims,’ says the Hindu classic The Bhagavad Gita. But the spiritual writers do not stop at mere observation; the object of all spiritual practice, whatever the tradition, is the transformation of Legion into
Union, the reduction of the many to the one, the
fashioning of singularity and simplicity from duality and complexity. This
difficult movement towards simplicity, and not the pleasant cultivation of
‘nice feelings’ is what, in large part, any genuine spiritual practice attempts
to effect. Aldous Huxley maintains that the saint is characterised by
simplicity and singularity of purpose, qualities which are completely at odds
with the lifestyle and appetites of sophisticated and mentally active people
like us, who constantly seek novelty, diversity, and distraction. The actions of the saints, says Huxley, ‘are
as monotonously uniform as their thoughts; for in all circumstances they behave
selflessly, patiently, and with indefatigable charity’. Their biographies, he
goes on, are of no interest to us because ‘Legion prefers to read about
Legion’; complexity and contradiction fascinate us; simplicity leaves us
Becoming ‘simple’, or becoming saintly, requires effort, and it may well be that, for most of us, it is an unappealing prospect. I seem to be quite content in my diversity, so I cannot recommend that you take inordinate steps to reduce your own. I’m not ready to cast out my demons, so maybe I’m not ready for sainthood yet! (It is important to point out, I think, that we need to control our diverse elements, not destroy them.) But Ouspensky, who devised a complicated system specially designed to bring about a psychic unity, tells us that the first stage on the way to transformation is the realisation of one’s own fragmentation, and the acceptance of it as a reality, and this can only come with constant self-observation. I am certainly prepared to do this. Learn to become aware of your own inconsistency, your own automatic reactions to circumstances, because each time we make ourselves aware of these things, says Ouspensky, their hold upon us is weakened. We may not wish to go further than observation, but this is probably enough to make a significant difference to our self-understanding, and it will certainly help to check our tendency to make simplistic, partial, unkind, and hypocritical judgements about the behaviour of others.
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