It is striking how ancient myths link up with modern-day thought, concerns and religious ideas. For the ancient Greeks, Pandora represented the first woman, part of a creationist myth, comparable to Eve in the creation myth of Abrahamic religions.
I like the artist Dante Rossetti’s interpretation of Pandora in the feature here, as it highlights the fact that she was not a real woman, but an archetype or metaphor representing a paradoxical idea.
According to the myth, Pandora was given a box, or more correctly, a jar by Zeus, who commanded her not to open it. When she did so in secret, out flew all the ‘evils’ of the world, leaving only ‘hope’ in the bottom of the jar. This is a simplified version of the parable, as I’m interested mainly in its relationship with human thought–and with wanting to know–and its implications for humankind. I see Pandora as a symbol of duality: male/female; desire to know/need to love; heaven/earth; good/evil; spirit/flesh and life/death.
We all know when we employ cognitive skills that we, as subjects, are doing so; Descartes, in the seventeenth century, said “I think therefore I am.” But no-one has been able to satisfactorily explain for me the phenomenon of conscious thought. My first introduction to philosophy in 1963-64 was through the study of the ancient Greeks, Socrates and Plato. I often wonder if Plato was right all along when he saw the material world as just clothing for the real world. The ancient Greeks, especially the Platonists, advised people to look to the harmony of the universe, so that by venerating its grandeur they might forget their immediate afflictions.
I’ve always been drawn to the ideas of Carl Jung, who re-invented terms such as ‘archetypes’, ‘projection’ and the ‘shadow’ to describe psychological phenomena that touch us all as humans. Perhaps as a writer, I prefer the mystical/mythical way of seeing reality. For a time I studied Buddhism in an attempt to find meaning in the universe, but soon learnt that the ideas of karma and reincarnation were just as beset by dogma as most religious ideas are. According to Gnostics, Karma at best can only explain how the chain of suffering and imperfection works. It does not inform us in the first place why such a sorrowful and malign system should exist. However, as soon as one adopts or ‘invents’ a religious idea, freedom ‘goes out the window’ and one is bound to a way of thinking like a captive tied by ropes and cords.
“In the Gnostic view, there is a true, ultimate and transcendent God, who is beyond all created universes and who never created anything in the sense in which the word ‘create’ is ordinarily understood. While this True God did not fashion or create anything, He (or, It) ’emanated’ or brought forth from within Himself the substance of all there is in all the worlds, visible and invisible. In a certain sense, it may therefore be true to say that all is God, for all consists of the substance of God. By the same token, it must also be recognized that many portions of the original divine essence have been projected so far from their source that they underwent unwholesome changes in the process. To worship the cosmos, or nature, or embodied creatures is thus tantamount to worshipping alienated and corrupt portions of the emanated divine essence.” (Wikipedia)
It is preferable, therefore, to remain open to the ineffable: some things can only be experienced, without their being fully understood. Words are too ‘cluncky’ or inadequate to transfer them onto the page. Take fear, for example. We all experience, at different stages in life, relative degrees and amounts of fear. Nightmares are probably the projected images of this ubiquitous human emotion trying to get ‘heard’ and challenged by the psyche at night. Once looked at, and perhaps analysed, these fear fragments are often exorcised for what they really are: parts of the imaginative psyche at work trying to get our attention while we sleep.
Without conscious thought, we would not be human; and with it comes the challenge of becoming stronger and less afraid as we advance through life. Without accepting challenges and the chance of pain, there can be no opportunity for developing courage and for achieving those goals of which we are capable. And perhaps of experiencing the ineffable.
I like the fact that, what was left in Pandora’s box, after all the negatives flew out, was hope.