All of a sudden, as if from out of nowhere, something happens, something we cannot control. We are overwhelmed, struggling to maintain, perhaps even entertaining the notion that everything will be different from this point on. It hurts, it hurts bad. We might even feel like we’re drowning, like we’re dying.
Have you ever had an experience like this?
If you answered yes, you are familiar with Poseidon.
As part of my “Who are the gods anyway?” series, I ask the question: “Who is Poseidon anyway?”
Best known as god of the ocean, Poseidon probably arrived in Greece nearly 4000 years ago when an Indo-European peoples known as the Minyans arrived, bringing with them the horse, the wheel, and a god named Potei-dan, or “‘potent husband of earth,'” who was then paired with Da-Meter, the earth mother (Downing, Gods in our Midst, 119).
Poseidon was known as Ennosigaios meaning “earth-shaker.” According to mythologist Karl Kerenyi, this title (the most common) “suggests an image of the god as a ‘violent copulator,” (Downing 120), a god, like his eventual brother Zeus, whose sexual appetite knows no bounds. Poseidon, in other words, does not discriminate: a “Poseidonic” experience can happen whenever, wherever to whomever and when he comes, it is as if our world has been rocked, the ground beneath our feet shaken–all of a sudden and out of nowhere something happens we cannot control.
It comes over us, and we are often flooded with emotion–emotion we were unaware of, or maybe we tried to keep down. Poseidon destroys the world we have created for ourselves with floods, tidal waves, and earthquakes. When overwhelmed with emotion, do we not say we are “flooded” with it?
But why? Why would a god also known as Laoites (of the people), Asphalius (secures save voyage), and Epoptes (overseer/watcher) do that to us? Why attempt to destroy our worlds?
“The bull, whose horns are seen in the nourishing crescent moon, seeds mother earth. It is his spirit and power that daily inseminate this modern world of material delights. Psychologically, he is that masculine, animal power that fertilizes and empowers attitudes of materialism and naturalism. The bull is the consort of all that is material, pragmatic, earthly, fixed, and natural. He is also, according to myth, the destructive force in service of the governing Goddess” (Puer Papers, ed. James Hillman, 194).
In relation to Poseidon, this governing Goddess is none other than Demeter, the nourishing (and devouring) mother with whom Poseidon fathered Despoina, who, like her “half-sister” Persephone, was at the center of a mystery cult. But Despoina was not the goddesses’ true name and proper name: such was under no circumstances revealed to the uninitiated. Thus the offspring of Poseidon and Demeter resembled the Eleusinian Mysteries, where “the solution to the…riddle” was not to be found in “the seed and the sprout…but in a miracle” (Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, 182). Mysteries as such centered around life after death. New life, that is, after the old one dies–after Poseidon has done his job.
So why does Poseidon destroy? So that new life may be lived–so new life, much as Poseidon is the destructive force in service of the goddess, may be nourished.
As the god “manifested from the psychic depths or from outer circumstance” (Edinger, The Eternal Drama, 24), Poseidon shakes us to our foundations when the foundations, the worlds we have created, have grown too stiff, too hard, too concrete. When we have become stuck. Poseidon’s destructions are the ego’s dreads. We don’t like it when our worlds are destroyed. But what the ego fears, the soul delights in (Hillman, Dream and the Underworld, 152) for Poseidon’s floodings and earthquakes are ways of “dissolving one kind of earth while another comes into being” (153). Of this kind of water Heraclitus wrote:
to water it is death to become earth.
From earth comes water, and from water, soul”
(qtd. in Hillman 153).
Soul wants to flow, says Hillman (153) and when soul ceases to flow, it becomes earth. Hard, we become fixated in our literalizations, our concretizations, our assurednesses that we are in control. Poseidon can remind us we are not (if we have the ears to listen). His destructions regenerate “water, as well as soul” (153).
The waters, the flow, of soul return, only to harden again, only to be flooded, destroyed again. Such is the process, says Hillman, of “soul-making” for which “dissolution in water is necessary” (153).
Alchemically, Poseidon’s actions are the solutio–the part of the alchemical process whereby what is solid becomes liquid. “The fixed, static aspects of the personality allow for no change. They are established and sure of their rightness. For the transformation to proceed, these fixed aspects must first be dissolved” (Edinger, Anatomy of the Psyche, 48). The alchemical process of solutio dissolves that which has hardened.
Demeter and Poseidon. Earth and Water. Life and Death.
So when your world comes crashing down and you feel like you are drowning, know that a god of the people is there, watching.
Of course it is going to suck. It has to. But know it is not you who is drowning–it is just ego.
And the world will still be there when you find yourself ashore–it will just be new, and maybe, if you look at it right, filled with soul.