Balloons are inflated with hot air which, being lighter than the surrounding air, cause the balloon to rise. The hot air can be kept that way as long as the source of heat can be controlled. In this way man can fly through the sky like a bird. The classic case of inflation is Icaros, whose father made him wings to escape their bondage on the island of Crete. The master craftsman father warned his son not to fly too high because the feathers were secured with bees’ wax. The adolescent youth was so charmed by his power that he disobeyed his father and, getting too high and close to the heat of the sun, lost his feathers and plunged into the sea. What goes up also comes down.
What is important is how we control the flight. James Wyly wrote about the inflated masculine psyche in 1989. He was interested in the psychological aspects of this phenomenon, how the quest for power and limitless competition leads to violence, to inflation and its likely disastrous consequences. He focused on the oldest metaphor of masculine inflation, the swollen, erect penis, called the phallos by the ancient Greeks (phallus in Latin), as “the physiological instrument of male creativity.” (The Phallic Quest: Priapus and Masculine Inflation, p. 11) Since Wyly was concerned about the destructive effects of too much inflation and how the unconscious creates balance, he looks to the oldest texts regarding the problem.
Priapus is a latecomer in the Greek pantheon. He wasn’t recognized as a god until the time of Phillip of Macedonia and his son Alexander. Wyly assumes there is a psychic reason for this. If you look at the images of Dionysos, god of wine and ecstasy, you will note an interesting change took place. The oldest representations of Dionysos show him as a mature man, bearded and well developed physically. Probably about the time of Socrates and the height of Athenian culture, Dionysos is seen as a beardless youth with long flowing locks of hair. The god is depicted in his adolescent form, beautiful and alluring as the wine he represents. What this means from a religious and psychological point of view is that the divine image was splitting into two distinct forms.
As an infant Dionysos was hidden from the Great Mother Hera’s wrath (Zeus had an affair with a human) by Hermes. But there is more to this story. When Semele is pregnant with the heavenly father’s child, she is met by an old woman who suggests all men inflate their credentials. If her lover is really Zeus, then ask him to show himself as he really is in all his glory. Hera (as old woman) is the source of this advice, and like the wicked witch of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, gets the innocent beauty to bite on the poisoned “apple”. Zeus can’t talk her out of her wish, so he hides behind a cloud as he discloses his true identity. The power of the sky god’s lightning flash kills Semele. The power of the divine masculine destroys the feminine. Zeus does a caesarian section saving the fetus, cuts open his own thigh and places his unborn son inside of himself. He thus carries his son to term and entrusts the child to another of his sons, the wily Hermes. The hiding place could be seen as a compensation for all this masculine energy of his birth father.
Where would Hera not look for a boy child? Hermes gives the child to a King and Queen to raise with their daughters. This proves to be the perfect hiding place, in a group of girls. Dionysos is raised as a girl, dressed as a girl, and likes to hang out with girls. When he finally “comes out” of the harem as a man, he is vulnerable to Hera’s revenge and she causes him to wander until she finally kills him like a bunch of grapes, smashed to pieces. But you can’t kill a divine being so easily and Dionysos comes back to life. He is the paradigm of the dying and rising god. Dionysos was called the “thrice born” because he was born of woman, of the divine father, and of himself. It is no wonder Christianity caught on with the Hellenes is it?
Wyly is concerned with the destructive aspects of masculine inflation and Priapus is the image of the split off part of the creative masculine. Priapus can easily be recognized by his enormous penis. He was the product of a one night stand according to the story. His father Dionysos impregnated the lusty and beautiful goddess Aphrodite, who abandoned the child. Neglected by his mother Priapus tries to take the missing mothering into himself by attempting to rape Hestia the goddess of the hearth.
His plan is thwarted by the braying of an ass, which awakens the divine court. There is a connection between the enormous phallos of the god and that of the ass, which shows up in Pausanius’ book The Golden Ass. Lucius, the hero who is trying to arrogate magical powers to himself by seducing the servant of a powerful witch, uses the wrong potion and turns into an ass. The betrayed feminine refuses to return him to his human form and the book is an account of his humiliating adventures as an animal. His consciousness is human, he understands the humans’ speech and learns what it is like to be treated like an object. In this way he experiences the effects of the abusive and destructive masculine forces in the ancient world. His creative masculine is split off and he cannot become whole until he gives up hope entirely. That is when he dreams of the Great Mother Isis, who tells him what to do. When he is transformed back into human form, Lucius devotes his life to the Great Mother’s service, becomes a wealthy lawyer in Rome, and shows us how all the suffering can eventually become a gift.
But Wyly doesn’t start with the hopeful story of Lucius. He starts with the story of Encolpius in Petronius’ tale the Satyricon. Encolpius is a handsome young student who is proud of his penis and his ability to use it. Priapus enters the story with his pruning knife and makes Encolpius impotent, thus humiliating Encolpius. Federico Fellini did a marvelous modern film of this story. It shows the agonizing search for potency in the company of others. Giton the slave/lover of Encolpius is the beautiful youth, who looks like an effeminate Dionysos, and is just as fickle.
Priapus does not restore what he takes away. After a long and arduous parody of Odysseus’ Odyssey, Encolpius (“the crotch”) is blessed with his phallic power again. The god Hermes is the source of this gift and since there is no evolution in the character’s personality, there isn’t much hope for Encolpius. Priapus will probably show up again with his pruning knife. When the masculine is inflated instead of balanced, disaster is around the corner. The proper attitude toward the vegetative god Priapus would be to offer him some of the produce of the fields, to sacrifice to him. This is the proper way to do things, to cut yourself down to human size and be humble. In the Satyricon the excesses of masculine power are demonstrated in all their various (perverted) forms. Everything that can go wrong does. It is an illustrative tale. When we think we are in control, the unconscious really is.
Psychologically speaking there is a basic flaw in human consciousness which developed in Greek civilization about the time philosophy emerged in our psyches. The masculine split into two parts symbolized by Dionysos and Priapus. This split is unhealthy and the unconscious strives to reintegrate the parts into a whole. Wyly put it this way,
“This separation is the result of a union between the feminine (Aprodite, Cybele, Agdistis) and an adolescent or effeminate masculine (Dionysus, Adonis, Attis)
which cannot bring fully developed phallic power into their relationship. This particular masculine-feminine union, then, castrates; that is, it suppresses phallos. Phallos then takes on an autonomous life of its own as the complex symbolized by Priapus with his enormous penis. If Priapus is a god who takes form when attention is focused on a relatively non-phallic masculine, then he is a compensatory phenomenon; and, as he is both divine and an exaggeration, he carries his own countercompensation, the knife that can prune the tree back to healthy size. Thus there is a balance inherent in the figure of Priapus.” (p. 31)
Carl Jung talked about the emerging ego as a slow awareness of oneself as separate from the cosmic soup into which we are born. That divine otherness, the origin of human consciousness, is usually seen as the matrix, the divine feminine, the Great Mother who carries us through all the stages of evolution until we emerge as a infant. Our human mothers are an extension of this divine mothering, which because of its “otherness”, its difference from our conscious awareness, Jung labeled the unconscious. Literally it is that of which we are not conscious, that which cannot be known in its essential nature. Kant used the expression “the thing in itself” which gives us empirical sensory data by which we can deduce its characteristics, but it is theoretically impossible to “get inside it” to understand it in the way we understand ourselves. This Divine Mother (matrix comes from the Latin mater) is ultimately unknowable, except as it affects us. The otherness is distinguished from humanness by calling it divine. The gods and goddess are the Unconscious, the Matrix out of which life emerges.
There is a universal quality to the images of the Unconscious which Jung tried to capture with his use of the term Collective Unconscious. All of the archetypal forms of energy matrices, the gods and goddesses, reside in the Collective Psyche of the Cosmos. This accounts for the fact that there is cross-cultural imagining of forces in dreams, visions, and art across the planet. It is possible for an Irish immigrant to the United States to have dreams of indigenous native mythology and legends from North America, Africa, or Asia. There is an inter-connective psychic tissue, invisible yet recognizable in the dreams of people on this big, blue marble. If we follow Jung’s thinking, the ego is emerging from this Unconscious psychic stuff. As we become aware of ourselves as separate from mother and father, from the family, and locale, another unconscious process is happening. There are invisible threads connected to us, threads which come from the divine Source, which Jung called the Self.
In the process of becoming aware of ourselves as individuals, there is a kind of inflation happening. Some of the qualities of the Divine Source are annexed to the ego consciousness. This especially happens when we undergo Jungian analysis, when the collective unconscious is being allowed to have its way with us. The danger is inflation, that we will identify with the power flowing from the unconscious and, like Icarus, get too high. When that happens the Self (the divine symbolized by the sun) melts our wings and we fall back into the unconscious. This is another way of saying that we could easily suffer a psychotic break. That is the dissolution of the ego into the unconscious, the sea of the Great Mother.
Individuation can thus be a risky road to travel. All the myths and legends tell us about this process. They provide us with road maps of possible routes and consequences. That is why Jung stressed the importance of studying comparative religion and mythology. If you want to survive the spiritual journey of individuation, you will need a guide and/or guide books. Wyly is focused on the problems created when we assimilate qualities to ourselves, to our conscious egos, which belong to the divine, to the Self. A compensating lowering takes place, orchestrated by the Unconscious, until we attain the proper relationship to the divine. This is symbolized by the golden mean, the path between the extremes. For an inflated man this could mean a moral defeat, humiliation, or loosening his tight values for a more open orientation. The compensation will depend on the individual, but the common characteristic will be of balancing consciousness with the unconscious, so that there is a harmonious cooperation of the ego and the unconscious. That is the great Opus or Work of the alchemists. It is the ultimate goal of civilization. But that is not what we see in the contemporary world around us.
What we see now is inflation of the masculine in every possible way. Power, control, subjugation of the indigenous, women, children, the “others” is rampant. All of life is treated as an object by the inflated masculine. Petronius illustrated that in his portrayal of the Roman Empire. Civilization which holds up the Roman political system as ideal is going to suffer the fate of Rome. The culture is just a reflection of individual consciousness. It is the collective expression of all the individuals in the culture. People who are inflated, men and women alike, create their power complexes within the culture. Desire to control resources, whether they are natural or human, leads to further inflation of those in power positions and to the governments which do their bidding. That was the situation in ancient Rome, just as it is the European Union, the United States, China, or Russia. Everywhere we see the inflated masculine and the split-off masculine symbolized by Priapus, he who would rape the earth and its women before castrating its men. The ancient stories show us how this destructive masculine developed and what little hope there is for rescue from its clutches before it destroys the planet.
We have to allow the influence of the divine to compensate for our arrogance. We have to accept the humiliation and impotence which results from our inflation and trust patiently that rescue will come. In the stories of Encolpius and Lucius help comes after long suffering humiliation creates the proper attitude of respect for our helplessness and dependence on divine grace. This shows up in two forms, the divine Trickster and the Great Mother. Hermes is like the Native American Trickster figures of Coyote, Raven, and Rabbit. We can learn a lot from studying these animals. They know how to use their intelligence for their advantage. They are survivors. They are tricky, sexually and materially, but they fit into the world as inter-related individuals. They know their place in the web of life.
Hermes is divine, an agent of the Collective Unconscious, the guide of souls and the messenger of the gods. His messages arrive from the divine realms in dreams and visions. The deity is helping his creatures by sending them advice. If they listen and implement the messages, things improve. That was Hermes’ gift to Encolpius. He restored his potency as a man. Similarly the Great Goddess of Egypt Isis can restore potency. But again the process of humbling oneself first is necessary. If we don’t do it consciously, we are forced to do it unconsciously (Lucius unconsciously turned himself into an ass). We are forced to see ourselves as pigs or asses, lower than human in the way we behave. When we finally experience what it is like to lose our human consciousness, we know how important it is to preserve it. Only with the proper respect for the divine otherness of the cosmos can humanity be restored to balance.
That is the story of Lucius, who promises never to become inflated again. His religious practice guarantees his service of the divine mother, his respect for the matrix out of which we all emerged. That is the only sustainable way for humanity to survive. It was true two thousand years ago and it is true today. The question is, can we humble ourselves before Creator and receive balance? That is the teaching of Priapus and Dionysos, respect for the divine and lowering ourselves, humbling ourselves in the service of others, in the service of unconditional love.