Site Section Links
SCHIZOPHRENIA AND THE FEAR OF WORLD DESTRUCTION
Copyright© April, 1975 by LEWIS M. GREENBERG and WARNER B. SIZEMORE
It is widely known that the Aztecs of Mexico experienced great anxiety each time a 52-year Venus-cycle neared its completion. But what, precisely, was it that they were afraid of?
During the five useless days (nemontemi) of the final year the people let their fires go out and destroyed their household furniture. Fasting and lamentation were the order of the day while the populace awaited catastrophe. Pregnant women were shut up in granaries, lest they be changed into wild animals, and children were marched up and down and kept awake, for fear that sleep on the fatal evening would result in their turning into rats.(1)
The uniformitarian author of this passage, the late Dr. G. C. Vaillant, could not have suspected how much valuable information for the catastrophist he was compressing into these few sentences. For here, we have nothing else less than a partial list of the possible traumatic effects of the Venusian cataclysm of ca. 1450 B.C. proposed by Velikovsky in Worlds in Collision (Part 1: Venus). While the passage is doubtless amenable to varying interpretations, it seems reasonable to assume that pregnant women aborted, and that many people alternated between periods of profound stupor and periods of frenzied activity. In other words, they alternated between "sleeping" and behaving like "wild animals."
Let us examine, first of all, some textbook descriptions of catatonic schizophrenia:
In the first or catatonic type of schizophrenia the mechanism of defense is denial. The patient, whose ego is melting away, whose sense of reality is disappearing, who can no longer think or concentrate, will deny this terrifying process in one of two ways: either by becoming over-active and excited in an attempt to push the world away, or by withdrawing from the world into himself. The one kind of denial, known as catatonic excitement or furor, is indeed a true furor; the patients are really maniacal. When lay persons think of someone, going crazy, running amok, they have this kind of insanity in mind ...
The other way of denying the disintegration of the personality is to withdraw to a state of absolute silence and isolation in which the world is shut out rather than pushed out. In this mute type of catatonic schizophrenia patients refuse to open their mouths to be fed and do not respond at all to questions. They frequently exhibit the state of cerea flexibilitas, or waxy flexibility, in which their hands, feet, or whole body can be put in postures which will be maintained for a long time.(2)
A catatonic patient may have repeated episodes of stupor without excitement or excitement without stupor, or he may dramatically and unpredictably swing from one extreme to the other. Although the pattern of motor activity has some similarity to that observed in manic-depression, the specific motor symptoms of the catatonic have some unique features . . . The pupils of the eyes may show irregular contraction and dilation, or the eyelids may be tightly closed [emphasis added] . . . In the excited state, he becomes extremely agitated and destructive. He is likely to destroy furniture, tear his clothes, assault others, or injure and mutilate himself.(3)
It appears, then, that the shattering and prolonged trauma of cosmic catastrophe could produce psychological states which were strikingly similar to those which we classify today as catatonic schizophrenia. But the Aztecs were not the only people to remember what had happened to their ancestors during periods of cataclysm:
Isaiah 9. 19 (RSV): Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is burned, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no man spares his brother.
Isaiah 13. 13-15: Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. And like a hunting gazelle . . . every man will turn to his own people, and every man will flee to his own land, Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
Zephaniah 1.14-17: The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast . . . A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry . . . I will bring distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, [emphasis added] because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.
Haggai 2.20-22: The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, "Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall go down, everyone by the sword of his fellow . . . "
Zechariah 12.4: On that day, says the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness . . .
Zechariah 14.13: And on that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will lay hold on the hand of his fellow, and the hand of the one will be raised against the band of the other . . .
Thus did the prophets of Israel remember in their eschatological visions how their ancestors had engaged in frenzied slaughterings while in a state similar to that of catatonic furor, or had "walked like the blind" - an accurate if incomplete description of the slow and shuffling locomotion of the mute but mobile catatonic. (In the true prophetic vision, the prophet does not know that he is remembering ancient events. Since racial memories reside in the Jungian collective unconscious, whose sense of chronology is just as poor as that of the individual unconscious from which ordinary dreams proceed, the prophet naturally interprets his vision to be a warning from God that cosmic catastrophe is imminent.)
But with which cosmic catastrophe are we to associate this murderous panic and this "walking like the blind?" The following passage, in which Moses warns his people of what will happen to them in the land of Canaan if they do not obey all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, makes it clear that these psychological phenomena had accompanied the advent of the Venus-comet and the resultant "plagues of Egypt":
Deuteronomy 28-27-29: "The Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt, and with the ulcers and the scurvy and the itch, of which you cannot be healed. The Lord will smite you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind; and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness . . . " [emphasis added]
But in the interest of fairness, we should present the uniformitarian interpretation of the bizarre fears of the Aztecs upon the completion of a Venus-cycle:
They [the Aztecs] thought of the change from one cycle to another as the death of one life and the beginning of a new one. The realization that nature could withhold the continuance of their existence endowed the ritual with profound solemnity.(4)
In other words, since Venus -- as we are assured by the high priests of astronomy -- has been for untold aeons nailed securely into its present Newtonian orbit, the fears of the Aztecs associated with that beautiful and placid body could not possibly have been grounded in any objective racial experience. Instead, their fears were nothing more than an exaggerated and ritualized reflection of their "realization that nature could withhold the continuance of their existence." Thus does his lack of the correct world view force the uniformitarian scholar to manifest his brilliance in mere cleverness -- in little ad hoc explanations bearing no reference whatsoever to any underlying or unifying hypothesis.
Since Dr. Vaillant died in 1945, five years before the appearance of Worlds in Collision, he cannot justly be criticized for having participated in the ad hoc game of the uniformitarians. The same extenuation, however, cannot be advanced for the cultural anthropologist who wrote in 1970:
All through contact times, the Apapocuva Guarani have been haunted by a fear of impending world destruction - a supernatural symbol, perhaps, of their concurrent fate, though this same fear was indigenous among Pacific coast Indians of the present United States also. Their shamans rescued them from these fears again and again, teaching them dances that would bring believers to an earthly paradise . . . Some shamans led holy wars against the Spaniards, whose rule they announced had ended; and some led the tribe from its home territory to seek the legendary Land Without Evil.(5)
Near the center of the area over which the Prophet Dance later was to spread, lived the Southern Okanagon. This apprehensive tribelet believed that falling stars, earthquakes, and other anomalous events in nature were all signs of the coming destruction of the world.(6)
The Modoc greatly feared the world's end. Every year in the fall they danced at the coming of the aurora borealis. This was the sky on fire, set by Kumukamts the Creator, his son, and Red Fox. Its smoke or flames would cause incurable sickness . . . Then they danced to ward off the great burning of the world, lest the earth catch flame from the sky at the edge of the world, and make deep fires to consume them all from beneath the ground. The Modoc also greatly fear the dreams that come in their anti-sunwise shuffle dance, and sometimes faint from these dreams. But they must dance on to prevent the world's end.(7)
Another striking case comes from another far center of the world. At the end of August 1934, a Maori of the village of Waitarata in New Zealand, dreamed that the world was coming to an end. For a week the whole village prepared for the cataclysm which would send them to their ancestors. The dreamer who had seen the angel and heard its message was a hero to his people.(8)
Note that the author's recognition of the widespread existence of fear of world destruction (or of the joyful anticipation of it that comes with the prophetic vision) among primitive peoples does not prevent him from attempting to explain away the fear of the Guarani. He infers that what they were really afraid of was destruction by the Spaniards, and that their fear of world destruction was nothing more than a symbolic reflection of this real fear.
It is fascinating to observe that the psychiatrists have hit upon precisely the same method of disposing of fear of world destruction as have the anthropologists:
As the sense of reality disappears in the schizophrenic patient, panic and Weltuntergang dreams appear . . . Since the experience of losing the sense of reality is indeed terrifying, it is no surprise that many schizophrenics develop tremendous fear. Panic would be a more accurate description of their terror . . . Weltuntergang dreams, which emerge as the sense of reality is lost by the schizophrenic patient, are dreams of catastrophe, of a "world going under," as the German term implies. One patient dreamt of an earthquake in New York City and of all the buildings crumbling and sinking into a bottomless pit . . . These dreams are completely characteristic of the disease at this stage.(9)
The inner perception of the loss of object relationships causes, according to Freud, the fantasy frequently met with in the early stages of schizophrenia: that the world is coming to an end. The patients who experience such a feeling are correct, in a sense; so far as they are concerned, the objective world has actually broken down.(10)
The idea that the world is coming to an end, or has already done so, is one which is frequently met in schizophrenics, particularly in the early stages of the illness. This idea may take the form of a fixed delusion or of an anxious obsession. In its details this idea varies tremendously. Earthquakes, floods, wars, revolutions or pestilences may be held responsible, or specific descriptive details may be entirely lacking. At times the destruction is represented by lesser catastrophes in which nations, or merely cities are destroyed. These ideas have in common that large masses of people are wiped out, usually the whole human race. Often variations of this occur in the same patient.(11)
In other words, disintegration of the ego is what is really frightening the schizophrenic, and this real fear is merely symbolized or reflected by his illusory fear of world destruction.
Yet - ironically enough - it is the uniformitarian psychiatrist who, in describing the logical system of the schizophrenic, unwittingly directs us to the past and to the collective unconscious as the probable sources of the world-destruction fantasy, just as they are in the case of the prophetic vision:
The way in which schizophrenic patients use concepts and words is by no means always disorderly. There is, as a matter of fact, a definite order in their thinking but it does not obey the laws of our "normal" logic. Schizophrenic logic is identical with primitive, magical thinking, that is, with a form of thinking that also is found in the unconscious of neurotics, in small children, in normal persons under conditions of fatigue, as "antecedents" of thought, and in primitive man. It is the archaic way of thinking . . .
Schizophrenics, for example, show an intuitive understanding of symbolism. Interpretations of symbols. . .are made spontaneously and as a matter of course by schizophrenics. Symbolic thinking for them is not merely a method of distortion but actually their archaic type of thinking.(12)
We have now described two groups of people in whom the fear of world destruction is conscious -- the primitives and the schizophrenics. These people remember something that we - the "civilized" and the sane" - have forgotten, namely, that great world destruction has frequently come from the skies. And how do we honor the retention of this ancient wisdom? We characterize it as incontrovertible proof that the primitives are "superstitious" and the schizophrenics are "insane." Now let us consider how the psychiatrist handles the problem of guilt for having "caused" a catastrophe. We paraphrase from notes and memory some remarks made by Dr. Karl A. Menninger to Edwin Newman in the course of a PBS telecast of April 1, 1974:
Sometimes patients come to me complaining that they cannot sleep, that they feel guilty of having caused the California earthquake or some other disaster. I explain to them that they must really be feeling guilty of something else, and I help them discover what that is.
Of course Dr. Menninger can always locate some other source of guilt. Is there any normal person among us who does not feel guilty of at least two things at any given time? In actuality, Dr. Menninger will never be able to help his patients understand fully why they feel guilty of having caused disaster until he abandons uniformitarianism and accepts the reality of man's inherited assumption of guilt for having produced - through the commission of sin - the cosmic catastrophes of the past.
Finally, let us observe how the psychiatrist handles the problem of the fear of causing world destruction:
In catatonic schizophrenia extremes of violent motor excitement or rigid immobility dominate the picture. Onset is often abrupt. The patient may maintain difficult postures for hours, days, or months and requires complete care. Alternation between extreme excitement and rigidity may occur. Frequently these patients are in the midst of some mystical experience, believing themselves in heaven or hell; they are often immobile and refuse to speak because thy believe any movement or word can produce a universal catastrophe.(13)
In addition to motor symptoms, the catatonic displays typical schizophrenic thinking and affect. While either stuporous or excited, he experiences vivid fantasies, fears and hallucinations. He has delusions that are sometimes of a cosmic nature, e.g., "The world will come to an end if I move."(14)
Thus fear that he might cause world catastrophe is just something the catatonic "believes." After all, he is insane, isn't he? -- and who knows what weird delusion or fantasy he may come up with next?
Again and again we have seen the anthropologists and the psychiatrists refuse to recognize that ideas of world destruction might have any meaning other than as symbols or reflections of some other idea or effect. Indeed, one might suspect that we have here an example of the operation of the Velikovskian collective scotoma - the characteristic and persistent inability of the uniformitarian to draw any conclusion from his observations which would logically cause him to doubt the correctness of his world view.
To sum up the principal finding of this article, we have shown that the disintegration of objective reality during cosmic catastrophe could produce subjective states similar to those of schizophrenia, and that the disintegration of subjective reality in the schizophrenic is accompanied by visions of cosmic catastrophe. These observations suggest to us that there may well exist a relationship between the cosmic catastrophes of the past and catatonic schizophrenia. Precisely what this relationship might be, however, will require the attentions of some catastrophically oriented Jungian psychiatrist.
One final point, it occurs to us that perhaps the theologians and the students of religion might find something provocative in our juxtaposition of materials from the fields of anthropology, religion, and psychiatry. After all, does not the Bible state repeatedly that world destructions were punishment for sin? And does not sin produce guilt? And are not guilt and fear the two sides of the same coin? And is not the catatonic mute and immobile for fear of producing world destruction? And while his shattered ego is permitting visions of cosmic catastrophe to come welling up from his collective unconscious, is he not in the midst of a mystical experience?
But perhaps we are being presumptuous in suggesting to the modern theologian that he might profit from taking the Bible a little more seriously than is his wont.
1. G. C. Vaillant, Aztecs of Mexico (Penguin Books, 1966), p. 204.
2. R. R. Mezer, M.D., Dynamic Psychiatry in Simple Terms (New York, 1956), p. 68.
3. E. Rosen and I. Gregory, Abnormal Psychology (Philadelphia and London, 1965), pp. 315-316.
4. Vaillant, p. 203.
5. W. La Barre, The Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion (Doubleday, 1970), p. 203.
6. La Barre, p. 216.
7. La Barre, p. 217.
B. La Barre, p. 233.
9. Mezer, pp. 66-67.
10. O. Fenichel, M.D., The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (New York, 1945), p, 417.
11. W. A. Spring, "Observations on World Destruction Fantasies," Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (1939), p. 48.
12. Fenichel, pp. 421-422..
13. "Schizophrenia," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (Macmillan, 1968), XIV, 44-45.
14. Rosen and Gregory, p. 316.
After completing the present article on Schizophrenia and the Fear of World Destruction, there came to our attention a recent work by Joseph Campbell(1) which gives added support to the thesis advocated in this article.
In 1968, Campbell had occasion to receive the reprint of a 1962 paper on schizophrenia published by Dr. John W. Perry in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Much to his "considerable amazement," Campbell "learned, on reading it, that the imagery of schizophrenic fantasy perfectly matches that of the mythological hero journey, which [he] had outlined and elucidated, back in 1949, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces."(2)
My own had been a work based on a comparative study of the mythologies of mankind, with only here and there passing references to the phenomenology of dream, hysteria, mystic visions, and the like. Mainly, it was an organization of themes and motifs common to all mythologies; and I had had no idea, in bringing these together, of the extent to which they would correspond to the fantasies of madness. According to MY thinking, they were the universal, archetypal, psychologically based symbolic themes and motifs of all traditional mythologies; and now from this paper of Dr. Perry I was learning that the same symbolic figures arise spontaneously from the broken-off, tortured state of mind of modern individuals suffering from a complete schizophrenic breakdown: the condition of one who has lost touch with the life and thought of his community and is compulsively fantasizing out of his own completely cut-off base.
Very briefly: The usual pattern is first, of a break away or departure from the local social order and context; next, a long, deep retreat inward and backward, backward, as it were, in time, and inward, deep into the psyche; a chaotic series of encounters there, darkly terrifying experiences, and presently (if the victim is fortunate) encounters of a centering kind, fulfilling, harmonizing, giving new courage; and then finally, in such fortunate cases, a return journey of rebirth to life. And that is the universal formula also of the mythological hero journey, which 1, in my own published work, had described as: 1) separation, 2) initiation, and 3) return:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
That is the pattern of the myth, and that is the pattern of these fantasies of the psyche.(3)
Campbell was impressed by Dr. Perry's thesis which stated "that in certain cases the best thing is to let the schizophrenic process run its course ... to help the process of disintegration and reintegration along."(4)
It was Campbell's suggestion, however, that "if a doctor is to be helpful in this way, he has to understand the image language of mythology . . . to understand what the fragmentary signs and signals signify that his patient . . . is trying to bring forth in order to establish some kind of contact. Interpreted from this point of view, a schizophrenic breakdown is an inward and backward journey to recover something missed or lost, and to restore, thereby, a vital balance."(5)
In his previous writings, Campbell had already noted that "among primitive hunting peoples it is largely from the psychological experiences of shamans that the mythic imagery and rituals of their ceremonial life derive. The shaman is a person (either male or female) who in early adolescence underwent a severe psychological crisis . . ."(6)
Campbell's observations find support from Anton T. Boisen who concluded nearly four decades ago that "certain types of mental disorder and certain types of religious experience are alike attempts at reorganization. The difference lies in the outcome. Where the attempt is successful and some degree of victory is won, it is commonly recognized as religious experience. Where it is unsuccessful or indeterminate, it is commonly spoken of as 'insanity'." (7)
Thus, "there is . . . a definite relationship between the mystical and the pathological which is to be explained by the fact . . . that religious concern is invariably associated with the attempt to grapple with the vital issues of life. And wherever the conflict is keenest, there we are likely to find both religious and pathological manifestations."(8)
As a student of world mythology, Campbell is especially cognizant of archetypes and their universal existence. Adhering to Jungian analysis, Campbell believes that man "has both an inherited biology and a personal biography, the 'archetypes of the unconscious' being expressions of the first . . . As the first is biological and common to the species, so this second is biographical, socially determined, and specific to each separate life. Most of our dreams and daily difficulties will derive, of course, from the latter; but in a schizophrenic plunge one descends to the 'collective,' and the imagery there experienced is largely of the order of the archetypes of myth."(9)
Boisen had earlier pointed out that "schizophrenic dissociation becomes greater in the catatonic than in other types. The regressive tendencies go deeper and it is in this type that we find the clearest demonstration of the 'intrauterine mind.' Such states, and early schizophrenia generally, are to be viewed as attempts by regression to genetically older thought processes to reintegrate masses of life experience which had failed of structuralization into a functional unity."(10)
It is Campbell's contention that "the educated brain may interfere, misinterpret, and so short-circuit" the mythological symbol which Campbell has defined as 'an energy-evoking and directing sign'. "When that occurs the signs no longer function as they should. The inherited mythology is garbled, and its guiding value lost or misconstrued."(11)
Campbell, therefore, outlines four functions "normally served by a properly operating mythology."
1. THE MYSTICAL FUNCTION --
"to waken and maintain in the individual a sense of awe and gratitude in relation to the mystery dimension of the universe, not so that he lives in fear of it, but so that he recognizes that he participates in it, since the mystery of being is the mystery of his own deep being as well. That is what the old Alaskan medicine man heard when Sila, the soul of the universe, said to him, 'Be not afraid.' For, as beheld by our temporal eyes, nature, as we have seen, is tough. terrific, monstrous."(12) (Here follows a criticism of French existentialism.)
2. THE SECOND FUNCTION OF A LIVING MYTHOLOGY --
"to offer an image of the universe that will be in accord with the knowledge of the time, the sciences and the fields of action of the folk to whom the mythology is addressed. In our day, of course, the world pictures of all the major religions are at least two thousand years out of date, and in that fact alone there is ground enough for a very serious break-off. If, in a period like our own, of the greatest religious fervor and quest, you would wonder why the churches are losing their congregations, one large part of the answer surely is right here. They are inviting their flocks to enter and to find peace in a browsing-ground that never was, never will be, and in any case is surely not that of any comer of the world today. Such a mythological offering is a sure pill for at least a mild schizophrenia."(13)
3. THE THIRD AND FOURTH FUNCTIONS OF A LIVING MYTHOLOGY --
"to validate, support, and imprint the norms of a given, specific moral order, that, namely, of the society in which the individual is to live . . . to guide him, stage by stage, in health, strength, and harmony of spirit, through the whole foreseeable course of a useful life.,, (14)
Campbell's concluding remarks are cogent and provocative.
"In sum, then: The inward journeys of the mythological hero, the shaman, the mystic, and the schizophrenic are in principle the same; and when the return or remission occurs, it is experienced as a rebirth: the birth, that is to say, of a 'twice-born' ego, no longer bound in by its daylight-world horizon. It is now known to be but the reflex of a larger self, its proper function being to carry the energies of an archetypal instinct system into fruitful play in a contemporary space-time daylight situation. One is now no longer afraid of nature; nor of nature's child, society -- which is monstrous too, and in fact cannot be otherwise; it would otherwise not survive. The new ego is in accord with all this, in harmony, at peace; and, as those who have returned from the journey tell, life is then richer, stronger, and more joyous."(15)
Of final interest is Campbell's reference to a Royal Navy Commodore who gave a personal account "of a schizophrenic adventure of his own, at the culmination of which he experienced a fourth type of realization: a sense of sheer light, the sense of a terribly dangerous, overpowering light to be encountered and endured." To Campbell, this "account suggests very strongly the Buddha light described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is supposed to be experienced immediately upon death, and which, if endured, yields release from rebirth but is for most too great to bear."(16)
Boisen, in his own discussion of schizophrenia, reminds us that "it is important to bear in mind that such acute disturbances are closely related to the religious conversion experience which ever since the time of Paul of Tarsus has figured so prominently in the work of the Christian church. According to Starbuck's findings such conversion experiences are likewise an eruptive breaking up of evil habits and abnormal tastes and the turning of vital forces along new channels. In mental disorder of this type we therefore have a manifestation of the power that makes for health just as truly as we do in the religious conversion experience."(17)
In short, says Campbell, "our schizophrenic patient is actually experiencing inadvertently that same beatific ocean deep which the yogi and saint are ever striving to enjoy: except that, whereas they are swimming in it, he is drowning."(18) - L. M. Greenberg
1. See J. Campbell, Myths To Live By, Chapter X, "Schizophrenia - the Inward Journey" (Viking Press, N. Y., 1972)
2. Ibid., p. 202.
3. Ibid., pp.. 202-203.
4. Ibid., p. 203.
5. Ibid. (emphasis added)
6. Ibid., p. 204.
7. A. T. Boisen, The Exploration of the Inner World (Harper Torchbooks: N. Y., 1962 reprint of work originally published in 1936), p. viii.
8. Ibid., p. 298.
9. Campbell, op. cit., p. 210 (emphasis added).
10. Boisen, op. cit., p. Ill (emphasis added)..
11. Campbell, op. cit., p. 213 (emphasis added).
12. Ibid., pp. 214-215.
13. Ibid., p. 215
15. Ibid., p. 230
16. Ibid., p. 221
17. Boisen, op. cit., p. 159.
18. Campbell, op. fscit., pp. 219-220.
# # #