Sunday, August 19, 2012

TRC Exclusive: "The Curse of Cassandra and Refusing the Gift of Apollo"

from TRC's new contributor, Christopher Weller

Apollo in his golden chariot, driving across the sky, representing the rising and setting of the Sun
"Then, even then, Cassandra's lips unsealed the doom to come: lips by a god's command; Never to be believed or heeded by the Trojans."  - Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 2, Lines 330-32

In this great time of transition for the human race, those that suffer with the vision and understanding of what is to come, surrounded on all sides by seemingly lost souls, find themselves trapped in what has been called the Cassandra Syndrome.  We find ourselves secluded, cast away, cut off, and at times, shunned by the same society that seems just as "cursed" as we are- the same society that seems to sense, feel, or even understand the fate of the catastrophe upon us, yet, although the solution may be simplistic, they do nothing to stop it, denying what they know to be true about our future.

Likewise, in our seclusion, as we are cast out of the dominant culture, we search for meaning, for the connection to the world that was lost, yearning for some way to ease the pain, not only from our lonely solitude, but also of being repeatedly disbelieved.  Nonetheless, upon closer examination of the myth of Cassandra itself, I believe one can find a "cure," if you will, for both dilemmas.  So, follow me on this odyssey, and let this essay be such therapy that no mainstream psychiatrist could devise.

Legend has it that Apollo, the Sun god of the Greeks, saw such captivating beauty in the daughter of Priam, the king of Troy, that he tempted Cassandra with the power to have foreknowledge of the future.  In return for the god's benevolence, Cassandra was to allow Apollo the right of sexual union with her.  In spite of the god's advances, and the surreal gift of prophecy, Cassandra snubs Apollo.  The god is enraged for receiving the cold shoulder, and he curses the fair beauty of Troy by permitting her the gift of prophecy, but no one will every believe her visions.

The curse plagues her with the ultimate example of banishment, where she is constantly troubled with visions of doom and suffering for her people, and then she is quickly shunned by everyone around her.  She is labeled as mad.  One can imagine her running throughout the streets and corridors of Troy, with her hair flying about her shoulders, spouting out prophetic visions and oracles, which fall upon deaf ears, for no one can understand them, nor believe them.  Most attempt to subdue her; even her father, the king, locking her up in the dungeons of the city, hiding her away in shame; even when her efforts were merely a desperate attempt to warn the great civilization of its impending disaster, the fall of Troy.

As with Cassandra, we in the transition culture find ourselves in the same predicament.  Despite our good intentions to warn modern civilization, we too are misinterpreted, misunderstood, and labeled as crazy, doomsday prophets.  Like her, our own people, our own families mistake us as raving lunatics that are best kept at the fringe of society.  Her plight describes the tragedy of our lives today as visionaries for the transition.  In our pain we search for meaning- a spiritual guidance we find rooted only in the bounds of the Earth, and in the Sun on our face in the darkness of our seclusion.

Cassandra by Anthony Fredrick Augustus Sandy
"In my sleep the image of the prophet Cassandra appeared and offered blazing brands. 'Look here for Troy; here is your home!' she cried. The time to act is now; such signs do not allow
delay.
" - Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 5, lines 838-44

While we're alone here in our solitude, let us imagine now that the myth itself has a possible, more modern, more relevant interpretation.  Maybe there is a deeper meaning to it all, that can ease our pain, bring about a better understanding for us all, including the rest of the human race.

Let's imagine that perhaps the authors of the myth intended for Troy to be some sort of model for the story of civilization - some "golden" society, an example of human progress, an ideal society, where humanity is the pinnacle of Creation.  Maybe it is a model not so different from the promises of the culture of civilization today, that tells the story of our lives, that we are destined for greatness, that we are the chosen species to dominate the world and beyond, and that, like the citizens of Troy believed, it is the best way to live, that it is unstoppable, that it is invincible, and that it is everlasting, ever-reaching further for the state of godliness.

Maybe the Greeks' gift of the Trojan Horse symbolizes the hidden dangers in our arrogance - a sleeping leviathan of dread, ready to reek havoc upon our imagined dominance, our fantasy of invincibility.  The tragedy that permeates the story of Troy, through and through, is just like the tragic drama played out in the story, the quest, the odyssey of industrial civilization.  The punishment for our blindness and our ignorance, for not deciding to change, when we know we should, has become so great that we believe that we are so indestructible, that even the vision of the impending End on the horizon is as innocent and benign as the gift of the horse.

And we allow it right through the gates, into our society, into our community, into our families, and into our souls.  And, lo and behold, is the Cassandra, telling her fellow citizens of the world the truth - that the promises of this culture are lies, a betrayal in disguise that we are deceived into believing, that the truth of our possible future is masked from our view, and that we are to ignore the fact that it will destroy us.

In this way, the myth's lesson, the tragedy itself, is much more broad, bigger than just one person, such as Cassandra, such as you or I.  Maybe it is the human condition that suffers the actual dilemma - the curse of Cassandra.  Perhaps it is human society, and the state that it has come to today, that suffers from a global Cassandra Syndrome, where we feel, we sense, we know our fate - and not that no one believes these visions, for many believe it in their very souls!  Yet we do nothing, feeling we are powerless to overcome the terrifying vision of our future.

Cassandra: by Evelyn De Morgan (1898, London)
What if the refusal of Cassandra to have intercourse with Apollo has some other symbolic, less sexual, meaning to our dilemma.  Maybe it has in it another hidden lesson that can be applied to the curse of the Cassandra Syndrome of the world today.  Consider that Apollo, being the Sun god, represents the true nature of the Sun, which has given, and continues to give us life, or further, represents the natural world entirely.  Perhaps it is the refusal to bond with and accept that we are part of the natural world, to feel at one with that which gives us all life, that is the lesson of the myth.

Perhaps this longing we all feel in the transition culture - and that which the whole world, it seems, has been barred from feeling from being captive to the dominant culture - is a deep-seeded desire to return to a spiritual connection to nature - the one we rejected so long ago when we took on the role of dominion and were tempted by the false promises of civilization?  What if, by Apollo, we are given one more chance - a chance at having the vision to see where we are headed, yet we must sacrifice the temptations of the power of dominion over this world, as Cassandra was to sacrifice her body to the god, offering up our delusion of the grandeur and false sense of sovereignty over our lives, handing over everything, to be in union with "him," with the natural world, in order to finally be at peace with the world once again.

Maybe the lesson from this ancient, mythical fable tells us that it is okay to let go and give up our perceived perfection, our perceived beauty as "the pinnacle of Creation, " and unite once again with nature?  Maybe, by interpreting the story in this way, the attraction of Apollo to Cassandra is to be reciprocal, mutual, where the ancient Greek understanding of "Eros," or desire, described in Plato's Symposium, is in play here.  Perhaps this is a reference to the explanation of what desire is, given by the great Socrates, where he states that the pursuit of Eros is a result of the two halves of a soul that had been split into two at the beginning of the world, and forever long to be rejoined as one, achieving absolute harmony?  Perhaps, by doing so, we discover the meaning that is missing in our lives as humans, as a humanity that was once as one, in union and harmony with this world?  Maybe by doing so the curse can be lifted?  In doing so, possibly we will find our spiritual path that was lost along the way.

Antoine Rivalz 1667-1735 - Cassandra being dragged from Athena’s temple the night of the fall of Troy.
In seeing the story from this perspective, we find that the only difference between us, as the Cassandras of the world, and the rest of the population, is that we have taken the first step in the path towards this direction.  We take the path once traveled, not the least traveled.  We have just become more in tune with this inner Eros, this desire, this drive, than the rest of the sleeping public.  But, eventually, we all, all of the human race, must "submit to Apollo."  We all must relinquish our perceived dominion over ourselves and our world.  For it is the Sun, that divine giant in its celestial greatness, and all of nature combined, that is, and always has been, the one who dominates and is in control of our lives.

However, maybe I am wrong in my interpretation here.  Maybe I am just suffering from the Cassandra Syndrome just like all of you.  I'm sure most contemporary psychologists, who they themselves are still captivated by the promises of this culture, would surely agree.  Perhaps I am just crazy as some may say.  Maybe we are all just crazy.

But, then again, I walk outside, and the Sun shines on my face.  The energy from the Sun stirs up the atmosphere and I feel the breezes blow against my body and my face.  I hear the sounds of birds, the chirping of insects, and the laughter of children - all of nature whispering sweet nothings in my ear.  The seductive forces of nature are well at work on my soul, and I am enriched with life.  I feel the connection.  My visions become clearer, as the sunlight shines on my world.  It must be real.

And, that sunshine is certainly getting hotter these days. Maybe - just maybe - Apollo, the great celestial Casanova, is using his charm and flexing his muscle trying to tell us something.  

Will we believe it?

Cassandra  warns  the  Trojans. Engraving  by  Bernard  Picart, 1673-1733.



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