Prometheus, Orpheus, and the Energy Crisis


Click on cover for link to amazon.

So I just picked up one heck of a fascinating book.

Titled Cosmology, Ecology, and the Energy of God and edited by professors Donna Bowman and Clayton Crockett  of the University of Central Arkansas, it is a collection of essays that situate theology within the context of 21st century science, particularly in relation to what science defines as “energy.” In it one reads about the elusive and enigmatic dark energy and dark matter, about light, and how scientifically informed theologies offer valuable alternatives in regards to our modern energy crises.

But this is not a book review.

As part of my blog focuses on things mythological, there is one chapter in this book that particularly garnered my attention in these regards and in keeping with my archetypal approach to mythology, the focus of this post is rather straightforward: to discuss this chapter and amplify it through engaging an archetypal perspective.

The chapter is called “Solar Energy: Theophany and the Theopoetics of Light in Gregory of Nyssa,” written by T. Wilson Dickinson. While Gregory of Nyssa’s theology is the focus of this chapter, Dickinson prefaces his main discussion by mythologizing the issue and suggest “what is needed” in regards to the “shortage and overuse of energy” is a “transformation of the way many people have come to view nature and creation” (44). He cites Martin Heidegger’s claim that we human beings have become so separated from our world that we look at it “simply as being the raw material that stands in reserve” for our own technological efforts (44).

Dickinson cites the work of Pierre Hadot who, in turn,  cites Francis Bacon, who “identifies this relationship with ‘nature’ with the figure of Prometheus” (44), he who stole fire from the gods to give to humankind. “Modern scientific thought,” Dickinson continues, “does not wait for nature to reveal herself, but takes her riches by its own means” (ibid, emphasis added). This perspective, the Promethean,

“emphasizes the forceful violent human capacity to tear the veil off nature. Bacon holds that nature ‘unveils her secrets only under the torture of experimentation'” (44).

Tears the veil off nature. Only under the torture of experimentation.

From the perspective of archetypal psychology, one could say the myth of Prometheus, then, is a predominant myth of our time, especially that of our approach to the natural world.

The story of Prometheus’ theft of fire is, according to depth psychology, a story of the emergence of ego: “an announcement to the Gods that the human ego had come upon the scene” (Hillman Myth of Analysis 45). Fire, of course, alters substances and “through fire man can invent and discover” and he he “convert nature’s mystery into a problem to solve, thereby extending the realm of conscious control” (ibid).  That which is creative is perceived by the Promethean outlook (or ego) “inventive problem-solving” and the creative process itself is primarily understood in utilitarian terms” in service of ego (ibid).

In line with Hillman and Bacon via Dickinson, David L. Miller states “the massive technologizing of contemporary culture…is playing itself out according to the stories of Prometheus, Hephaestus, and Asclepius” (The New Polytheism 83). According to some myths Hephaestus is the son of the willful Prometheus and thus the theft of fire naturally leads to the myth of the blacksmith, Hephaestus, god of technology of whom I will discuss in a future post.

The Promethean theft of fire is/was necessary for the birth of civilization and the the birth of ego. It is easy to see the benefit of such, but remaining stuck in the Promethean is what is problematic and I think Dickinson, Hillman, and Miller would agree with the notion that modern society remains very much stuck in this myth. Dickinson’s concern is environmental and we find the danger in remaining in the Promethean laid out as such:

“So long as our thinking and acting remains limited to an outlook of scientific determinism (Hillman’s “utilitarianism”, my note), a lifestyle of conspicuous and needless consumerism, and an ethics of atomized individualism (the Promethean ego, my note), any practical efforts we might make to curb the looming (environmental) catastrophes seem to be doomed to failure” (44).

The image of remaining stuck in the Promethean is clear: fire, fire, and more fire–and our globe warms.

Again citing the work of Pierre Hardot, Dickinson calls for a remythologizing of our concept of energy in favor of an Orphic view. Whereas the Promethean extracts nature’s mysteries with the scientific rationality of ego, an Orphic view “penetrates the secrets of nature…through melody, rhythm, and harmony” (Hardot qtd. in Dickinson 44).  In other words, we look at nature’s mysteries not as something purely for our use and our exploitation, but see our surroundings, our environment, our world, “in terms of mystery and reverence” (45). Whereas the Promethean view reduces the world “to being a collection of objects through the work of calculations and mechanized apparatuses,” the Orphic “emphsazes the creative aspects of all activities” and “frames the capacity for knowing in creative, poetic, and artistic terms” (45).

Furthermore, the Orphic teaches that the mysteries of nature are not hidden and there is no need to violently extract them as the Promethean view requires. Rather, the Orphic “reaches us that what is most mysterious, what is most secret, is precisely that which is in broad daylight” (Goethe qtd. in Dickinson 45).

But in order to have that vision, if we are sticking with the myth, we must, like Orpheus go into the depths (see “Who is Hades anyway?” for a discussion of these depths). The Jungian Edward Edinger says the Orphic religion, “the highest religious manifestation of the ancient world” (The Eternal Drama 156), was a religion rooted in Mnemosyne, or memory: “Consciousness was the source of salvation, and consciousness was to be obtained by drinking the waters of recollection” (162).

So what does one remember?

One remembers, according to the Orphic texts, that “I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven” (Edinger 164).

One remembers, in other words, one is “aware of his transpersonal origin; he realizes that his essence does not derive from his personal experience or from what we call his ego being” (165).  This is a “pre-Promethean” memory, a memory not limited to ego. We are more than our egos, than our personal experience tells us we are, the Orphics are saying. This is what we need to remember and in remembering these transpersonal, archetypal, or, say, divine origins, one attains the vision of which Goethe spoke.

And in attaining that vision of the world, one approaches the world “in terms of mystery and reverence” and precisely not “knowledge and possession” (45).

The Promethean view is one rooted in power, in control. But the Promethean ego revels not in mystery, but its self and is deluded into thinking the “power” it possesses is true power. The Promethean, then, is essentially ignorant and in remaining stuck in the Promethean, infatuated with our false sense of power and control, we spin out of control, destroying our world as we go.

Can such a re-visioning be possible?

Can we, as people, maybe one by one or in small groups, begin to entertain a new vision of the world, a vision that celebrates Orhpheus’ “eternal

throb,” and revel in the mystery that is our environment, that is our world, our life?

Or will we continue forget where we come from and to march to the beat of our own drum–the tinkering of the blacksmith’s anvil–as we head into a future, continuing to steal the mystery from the world and transform it for our own egoic purposes, slowly destroying ourselves as we go?

Well, what do you think?

7 thoughts on “Prometheus, Orpheus, and the Energy Crisis

  1. I love this post. There is so much to ponder – thank you. This quote has stuck with me especially: “Whereas the Promethean extracts nature’s mysteries with the scientific rationality of ego, an Orphic view “penetrates the secrets of nature…through melody, rhythm, and harmony.” Well, I have a mind that I call “all-inclusive” and I do not see how Prometheus and Orpheus should be seen as mutually exclusive, as the authors of the book you write about suggest. I love both Orpheus and Prometheus and I see a need for these two to be in balance. I do not see Prometheus as synonymous with ego at all. I think he is more symbolic of divine intuition – a stroke of genius that is able to penetrate the secrets of nature in one divine instant. I think Prometheus was quite amazing, and so was Orpheus. I agree, though, that the latter has been sadly neglected in our Western culture.


    1. First off, thank you very much. Second, agreed; both are important–can’t have conscious life without Prometheus. So Prometheus yes, is necessary. As regards to the ego thing, the tradition of depth psychology sees the theft of fire in relation to light, light being associated with consciousness and with the birth of this consciousness a separation of the “ego-Self” connection, which is a necessary for psychological development. Ego is nothing bad per se (I think ego gets a bad rap these days), but it is the inflated ego, what Hillman calls the Hero, that can be problematic. Getting stuck in said inflation can exacerbate the problem to the detriment of other “archetypes,” in this case, Orpheus, who, as you suggest is sadly neglected. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and thanks for reading 🙂


      1. Thank you for this explanation. I agree that ego is not bad and I understand Hillman’s point of view but this is a rare moment for me, I guess, when I disagree with him. That does not take anything away from your great post, naturally.

        Liked by 1 person

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