Sunday, February 27, 2011

Demiurge : Godhead : : Ego : Self

Today our topic is much more metaphysical yesterday's, but I hope we'll still be able to find practical application for this information.  9 times out of 10, when I mention the concept of the "Demiurge" I get a response of utter confusion.  So today's post will be all about that concept and its reflection in Jungian theory.

The folks from long ago most famed for their use of this concept in metaphysics were the Gnostics.  Some, but not all, of them followed the philosophy of Jesus, but nearly all of them had a negative opinion of deities like Yahweh from the Hebrew holy books.  They believed that the things attributed to gods like Yahweh and Jupiter were deceptions of the Demiurge.  Many believed that experiencing material existence was the result of the Demiurge attempting to trap their souls for its own selfish purposes.

Needless to say Christians*, particularly after the Council of Nicea, did not take kindly to this type of belief.  Christian doctrine was still in the process of crystallizing, and people spreading the heresy that Jesus had come to save people from Yahweh was probably the worst thing possible for the people interested in the utility of Christianity as a Roman state religion.  So the Gnostics were pretty much exterminated; only recently with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library and the translation of its texts did western civilization re-acquaint itself with their ideas.  Before we look at the modern resurgence, let's look closely at the relationship between Gnosticism and Christianity in their basic forms.  (*When I say 'Christian' in this article, I mean Christians that worship Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.)

Both Gnostics and Christians would feel a particular desire to save the other from their own beliefs.  To a Christian, the Gnostic had his ear at Satan's mouth, and had been tricked into thinking up was down and God was the tormentor.  The idea that the self-proclaimed creator of this world didn't have one's best interests at heart is fairly horrifying, so these people had to be converted or dealt with.  In mirror, to the Gnostic, the Christian had fallen for a malign deception and made things very easy for the Demiurge, duped into crawling into his mouth and rejoicing at the opportunity to do so.

Each group thought the other was destroying itself, so inevitably one destroyed the other.  A significant difference between the two was that for the Christians, the adversary figure, Satan, knew that the true God was supreme.  The Gnostics, on the other hand, believed the Demiurge had tricked himself into believing that he was supreme.  To understand this, we'll have to take a general look at some of the Gnostic creation myths.

While there is no singular creation myth amongst the disparate Gnostic sects, I'll try to distill a myth in a similar vein for simpler reading.  In the beginning, there was Nothing.  As the Beast said, "Nothing Is; Nothing Is Not .: Nothing Becomes."  This type of Nothing goes far beyond a lack of something, beyond a lack of a lack, and far beyond the reaches of language.  It's the type of Nothing that's quite indistinguishable from Everything, in the same way that 2 = +1 + -1 = 0.  You might call it "Nothing with a twist."  (i.e. all there is is the twist, there's nothing that twists.)

Anyway, this Nothing, which was not able to know itself any more than you can see your own eye with your eyelids shut, was the true state of Godhead to the Gnostics.  In the twisting of this nothingness came to exist Pistis Sophia, who you might liken to Tiamat who gave birth to Marduk in Mesopotamian mythology, or to Mary who gave birth to Jesus without getting plowed, or to Nuit in Thelemic mythology.  She was a very pregnant form of Nothing, though still quite unconscious, and she birthed the Demiurge, the first Something.  Now, the Demiurge looked around, and saw nothing.  So, he concluded, I am the first being.  I created all of this.

That's the part of the myth that's relevant for the coming discussion.  To gloss over the rest, after that the Demiurge created 7 Archons to help him make and rule the world.  He found that humans had something beyond him within them: they were each an incarnation of Pistis Sophia experiencing herself from within, though he didn't label it as that because he didn't know he had a mother.  All he knew was that he wanted it, and if he could get more humans to willingly be absorbed into him, he could devour more of Pistis Sophia.  So he played the miracle game to acquire worshipers.  Only by becoming as Gods could humans escape him with any finality.  Until they managed that, or until they were lured into his annihilatory apotheosis they would continue to go through cycles of reincarnation.

Now, one of the modern Zeitgeist-shapers most influenced by Gnosticism was Carl Jung.  He didn't take the myths literally; his introverted style of interpretation lead him to see myths as explanations of the inner dynamics of the self.  In his language, the Demiurge would symbolically reflect the Ego, because the Demiurge's relation to the true Godhead mirrored the Ego's relation to the true Self.

The Ego can only be on one side of any distinction at a time, while the Self does not define itself at all.  Similarly, each mask of the Demiurge has specific rules for human behavior, while the Godhead is accessible to anyone (and is all we are ever accessing, in truth).  The Ego is the first thing to make a noise that it hears, so it thinks it's there first, just like the Demiurge.

I distinctly remember my first experience of self through the Ego.  I'm not sure exactly how old I was, but I was in a grocery store with my family and walking, and I stopped for a second and an unnameable revelation occurred to me, which could be variously called "I'm here" or "Time is passing" or "This is real, because I am real."  Very soon after that I reinforced this Ego consciousness when I convinced my dad to try the crane game with stuffed animals inside.  He said he'd try it to show me how hard it is to win at those things.  He won, of course, and I got a frog.

I also remember being obsessed with the question of memory during my early childhood: If I don't remember something happening, and no one else does (as is the case with a forgotten dream), did it happen?  By reflection we might expect the Demiurge to have similar doubts about his supremacy.  The defense mechanism of reaction formation to these intimations would help explain the behavior of Demiurge-type gods in mythology.  The Demiurge, essentially, is the cosmic solipsist.

An interesting thing about these speculations is how they illustrate the symmetry of magical thought.  We can just as easily say that the Ego is the Demiurge within as we can say that the Demiurge without is a projection of the Ego upon the world.  There is no need to prefer one formulation over the other.


  1. This is pretty well thought out stuff - interesting read.

  2. this is really deep man, thanks for posting!

  3. I wish I still had as good as a memory as I did as a child.

  4. wow metaphysics are a little over my head... its definitely interesting to try and learn though!

    I just know metaphysics from Lovecraft lol

  5. "In the beginning, there was Nothing. As the Beast said, "Nothing Is; Nothing Is Not .: Nothing Becomes."

    - Indeed, something came from nothing.

  6. These are some deep thoughts in there. Appreciate your share and very well constructed post!

  7. very deep, very edgy. youve got me interested in metaphysics

  8. i had to study this in college. The entire Id, Ego and super ego thought system was developed by sigmond froid. (sorry if i spelled it wrong).