Endtimes Again

Myth ApskThere is an idea that can be found in a number of different mythologies. According to this idea, human history can be divided up into ages, each of which has a particular characteristic. These ages get progressively worse and worse until the world is destroyed, whereupon it is reborn and the cycle starts all over again. The Ancient Greeks spoke of a Golden Age, long ago, which was succeeded by a Silver Age. Then followed a Bronze Age and a Heroic Age. Humanity now finds itself in an age of pain and despair that they called the Iron Age. The Romans had a similar chronology, although Ovid did not include Hesiod‘s Heroic Age. The Hindus divide history in a comparable way into four ‘Yugas’: the Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. We are now in the Kali Yuga, when man is furthest from the gods and the world is full of strife. At the end of this Yuga the avatar Kalki will arrive on a white horse and the world will end, then a new Satya Yuga will begin. The Norse tradition also contains this idea. In the Poetic Edda we can read these lines:

“Brothers shall fight,
and slay each other;
cousins shall
kinship violate.
The earth resounds,
the giantesses flee;
no man will
another spare.

Hard is it in the world,
great whoredom,
an axe age, a sword age,
shields will be cloven,
a wind age, a wolf age,
ere the world sinks.”

Observing the world today, with the fragmentation of culture and the loss of traditional values, the devastating mechanical wars and the ascendancy of plutocracy, it is tempting to agree that we must be in a degenerate age. However, all those things about the modern world that tempt me to agree are, obviously, characteristics of the modern age – but people thought that we were in the final age over a thousand years ago. So, if there is anything more to this idea than the recurring despair of the adult at the youth of today, then it must concern something more profound than the malignant values of modernity.

It is important to note the cyclical nature of these ages. This is not the linear history of the Christians. This is not Armageddon, the Last Judgment or the Apocalypse. This is a cycle of creation, degeneration, destruction and rebirth. I think this is a point that is sometimes missed by the more pessimistic doomsayers among the traditionalists. It is also important to note that there need not be any particular moral value associated with degeneration. If we consider it as a vital part of the cycle, for without the move from perfect creation to destruction there could be no rebirth, then degeneration begins to lose its repugnant quality and can be seen as a dynamic process that ensures re-creation.

Further, if the ages are not historical in the Christian (and hence modern Western) sense, then what is their relevance to us today? To begin, we should not consider this cycle in a macrocosmic sense but rather observe its importance for the microcosm. Our own lives, if we are to grow and change, must also follow such cycles. There are moments when we leap forward in our initiation and attain a Golden Age. We must recognise these moments for what they are and make the most of them. But we must not stagnate. We must not allow past successes to become an excuse for avoiding further challenges. And so we must come to see our current state as inadequate, insufficient, perhaps even painful. So, our Golden Age must degenerate until we reach an Iron Age, a time so terrible that we must destroy it and begin anew.

But then, as Sir Isaac Newton wrote,

“That wch is below is like that wch is above & that wch is above is like yt wch is below to do ye miracles of one only thing.”

It is just as much a mistake to focus only on the microcosm as it is to focus only on the macrocosm. However, with the application of the cycle of ages to the microcosm in mind, we can perhaps apply it to the macrocosm with more beneficial results than mere grumbling about the poor state of the world these days. We can see the need for revolution, the need to continually return to our roots and begin anew, and the danger of being suckered into the Christian idea of linear progress. Myth describes the eternally recurring, not single moments in a historical past, and the end of the world is its time of rebirth, not the eschaton.

Published in: on August 20, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. I agree with the idea of time being non-linear and cyclical. Monotheism deals entirely in dualism and absolutes – the Alpha and Omega – though society, the Self and the world are in reality beyond such simplicity. However, put enough people together with enough will to make something happen and it may just become so. Our current age is dominated by the international strains and conflicts of a planet pulsing with informational, technological and psychological warfare. There is something unique about the capability we now have to destroy each other, even if there is nothing new behind the motivation to do so.

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