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THE PRIMORDIAL LEAP AND THE PRESENT: THE EVER-PRESENT ORIGIN - AN

OVERVIEW OF THE WORK OF JEAN GEBSER

by Ed Mahood, jr.

Opening remarks
The German author Jean Paul Ricther once wrote, "What has puzzled us before seem less mysterious,
and the crooked paths look straighter as we approach the end." This seems a fitting motto for our
investigations into one of the least understood areas of human knowledge: consciousness. There has
been a great wave of interest in this area in recent years, but it is clear that as much as has been
accomplished all the more there is yet to do.

Before anything else, we need to come terms with the word itself, not in any final sense, but as a first
approach to the matter. What is consciousness? Is it our emotions, our intelligence? Is is equivalent to
the term 'mind' or 'spirit' or 'gnosis'? Does it have anything in common with these terms? Is it a separate
and distinct phenomenon or is it embedded in nature and experience (whatever these may be)? When
we discover what it is, will we really recognize it? The choice of starting point will seriously impact
where we arrive in the end.

Our purpose here is to become acquainted with Jean Gebser's seminal work, The Ever- Present Origin
[1]. To this end, it would be helpful at the onset to gain a little background on Gebser's life and work,
which, in turn, should help us overcome the intellectual inertia present is such a task. This brief paper,
then, is comprised of several parts: first, a quick biographical sketch of the author; second, a summary
introduction to the work, focusing on Gebser's approach, third a closer look at each of the structures in
exemplary detail; fourth the introduction of two key notions for understanding Gebser's work, systasis
and synairesis; then, finally, a brief summary.

Biographical background
Jean Gebser was born August 20, 1905 in the Prussian town of Poznan (which is now a part of Poland).
His lineage dates back through an old Franconian family that had been domiciled in Thuringa since
1236. His uncle was the German Chancellor von Bethmann- Hollweg and on his mother's side he was a
descendent of Luther's friend Melanchthon. He came into this world at an auspicious time to be sure.
Five years earlier, Freud had published his groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams, that
was to form the foundations of psychoanalysis and change the course of the study of psychology. In the
very year of his birth, Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity that was to have a
significant impact on Gebser's thinking as well as on the world of science as a whole. Max Planck, the
great German physicist was promulgating his quantum theory; and Edmund Husserl, a then unknown
Austrian philosopher, published his Logical Investigations which were to become the foundation of one
of the most influential schools of philosophic thought in the 20th century, namely phenomenology. This
was also a time of a great occult revival as well, for the primary rosicrucian organizations that are still
operating in the United States, for example, were incorporated around this time as well.
Gebser's father was a lawyer of some renown; his mother a whimsical, self-seeking beauty many years
younger than her husband. He grew up, then, in an educated and cultured environment. Difficulties
between his parents drove him inward and he instinctively turned toward literature as his medium of
discovery; this was especially true after his father's death in 1922. Being forced to interrupt his studies
upon his father's death, he spent two years in an apprenticeship in a bank, a task that he disliked
severely. A year after beginning this training, however, he and a friend started at literary magazine
called the Fischzug, where his first poems were published. In Berlin at the time, and at least a part-time
student, he listened to many of the renowned faculty teaching at the university there. Among these was
the Catholic philosopher Romano Guardini whose depth of knowledge and spirituality left an indelible
impression upon Gebser. During this time he also discovered the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke which
had a tremendous impact on his thinking. It was during his Berlin years, however, that he first
confronted suicidal despair and the realization that he must venture out into the world in order to find
himself. The appearance of the first Brown Shirts in Munich provided him with the reason he needed to
leave Germany.

The first stop on his journey was Florence, where he worked for a while in a second-hand bookstore. It
was here that he came to the realization that all the books he read had never taught him how to live,
hence he began a more active quest toward fulfillment. He tried Germany again, but bade it a final
farewell in the Spring of 1931, first going to Paris and then on to Southern France. It was here that he
changed his German first name "Hans" to the French "Jean." Following the footsteps of Rilke, Gebser
moved to Spain. He managed to learn the language and obtain a position in the Ministry of Education,
in fact, and made friends with many prominent Spaniards, among them Federico Garcia Lorca. Gebser
also published a volume of translations of some of these newer Spanish poets. It was in Spain that
Gebser first conceived of the ideas that would later take form in his works, Decline and Participation
and, of course, The Ever-Present Origin. Shortly before his home in Madrid was bombed in 1936, he
managed to flee from Spain. Gebser settled in Paris and made the acquaintances of many of the notable
French artists and intelligentsia of the day, including Pablo Picasso. He was involved in writing and
literature for the most part, translating Hölderlin's poetry into Spanish and some of his Spanish friends'
political essays into German; he also produced some of his more minor works. Two hours before the
Germans sealed off the borders to France, Gebser again managed to flee, this time to Switzerland,
where he would reside from then on. These years were the most productive for Gebser, although life
still was not easy for him. He supported himself by freelance writing for the most part, but it was in
Basel that he befriended Carl Gustav Jung, at whose institute he also taught for many years. In
1949/1950, his efforts culminated in the publishing of The Ever-Present Origin, his most profound
statement regarding the unfoldment of consciousness in man. Throughout all of Gebser's writings we
find him wrestling with this subject, trying to find real answers to the important questions in life, such
as "Who am I?," "Where do I come from?" and "Where am I going?" This work is an answer to all
these questions on behalf of us all. During the remainder of his life, Gebser taught, traveled, wrote and
lectured. Each subsequent publication elucidated and illuminated various aspects of his most
fundamental theme, the evolution of consciousness. He had come into his own and enjoyed a certain,
yet modest, renown for his work. On May 14, 1973, Jean Gebser passed through transition, as
Feuerstein describes it, "as his death mask bears witness, with a soft and knowing smile."[2]

The approach
Ancient mythology informs us that the destruction of worlds is accompanied by catastrophic
circumstances. Wherever we look today we see evidence of impending catastrophe. Would it be wise to
deduce quickly then that our world is coming to an end? Maybe, maybe not. We definitely know that
something significant is impending. Many of us feel it, we intuit it; and we are seeking confirmation for
this working hypothesis. But where can we find it?
Certain support for this notion of earth-shattering change can be found in the works of Jean Gebser, so
it is here that I should like to devote our attention in this presentation. Gebser is not a psychologist,
economist, or scientist, in a more narrow sense, but is perhaps best characterized by the concept of
Kulturphilosoph, a German term that literally means "cultural philosopher." A student of literature,
poetry, psychology and science, Gebser brings a unique combination of talents to bear upon the subject
of his investigation: the unfoldment of consciousness. By better understanding the forces that are at
work and our own role in this process, we can better hope to rise to the challenges that confront us so
that our world truly becomes "the best of all possible worlds." The fundamental premise of Gebser's
work is that we are on the threshold of a new structure of consciousness. Overall, Gebser describes four
mutations, or evolutional surges, of consciousness that have occurred in the history of man. These
mutations are not just changes of perspective, they are not simple paradigm shifts (although the word
simple may seem inappropriate at this point); rather they are fundamentally different ways of
experiencing reality. These four mutations reflect five separate eras of development that are not distinct
and isolated from one another but are, instead, interconnected such that all previous stages are found in
subsequent ones. Each of these stages is associated with a dimensionality, beginning with the geometric
origin of zero and progressing to the fourth, the transition which we are experiencing at this time.
Gebser identifies these five phases as the Archaic, Magical, Mythical, Mental, and Integral stages
respectively.

Another key element of Gebser's theory encompasses two fundamental concepts: latency and
transparency. The former deals with what is concealed; as Gebser describes it, latency is the
demonstrable presence of the future.[3] In this manner the seeds of all subsequent phases of evolution
are contained in the current one. It is on the basis of this aspect that integration takes place. The second
term transparency deals with what is revealed. According to Gebser, transparency (diaphaneity) is the
form of manifestation (epiphany) of the spiritual.[4] This is perhaps the most important statement he
makes. The origin, the source from which all springs, is a spiritual one, and all phases of consciousness
evolution are a testimony to the ever less latent and ever more transparent spirituality that is inherent in
all that is. Without a recognition of this fundamental and pivotal idea, Gebser cannot be understood and
we will not be able to understand ourselves. It is not just an intellectual development that is being
described in his theory, rather it is the ever more apparent manifestation of the spiritual that underlies
and supports the concept of evolution itself. And finally, one further element must be mentioned. The
manifestation of these structures occurs in a quantum-like, discontinuous leap, not in a slowly
developing and changing framework as is postulated for Darwinian evolutionary theory, for example.
There are overlaps in these structures in as far as different peoples and cultures may be manifesting
different structures at the same time, but a clear development can be recognized and it is to be expected
that all cultures will eventually go through the same process.

It would seem, then, that we are dealing with a kind of historical description of a linearly unfolding
schema, but this would be a grave misinterpretation of his thesis and it does injustice to his approach.
At first blush it would appear that Gebser is approaching his subject as we would expect any historian
to proceed, but it must be emphasized that Gebser's approach is quite deductive. We are presented at the
very beginning with the model; later we are taken step-by-step through the 'evidence' which he believes
supports the claim. Consequently, we find a number of historical, archaeological, and philological
arguments presented that are not necessarily in keeping with generally agreed-upon theories in these
disciplines. At times, these appear quite creative but this is most often a result of reading Gebser in a
strictly intellectual and analytical manner. This is not to say that he should be approached uncritically,
for he should be, yet the text itself is not a logical argumentation as one would expect to find, let us say,
in a philosophical treatise. In accordance with his own model, he attempts to make of his book an
example of the type of thinking one would encounter in the Integral structure of consciousness. It is not
reasoned in a linear manner; in fact, the book would probably have been better suited to a hypertextual
presentation. It would be some years, however, before this form of document would be developed so
we are forced to deal with a non-traditional approach to a broader than usual subject that has been
forced into a well-known and familiar medium: the book. Failure to recognize this idiosyncrasy can
cause the reader untold difficulties from the beginning.

The consequences: A closer look


We should refine this general presentation, of course, and take a closer look, now at each of these
structures, in turn. In this way we can perhaps come closer to an understanding of consciousness in
general, but of Gebser's approach in particular.

The Archaic structure of consciousness


The Archaic structure of consciousness is perhaps the most difficult to understand, for it is the one most
removed from our present-day way of thinking. Stated succinctly, it can be likened to zero dimensional
mentation, a world devoid of any perspectivity at all. It is a stated in which the holder of consciousness
is perhaps only minimally aware of himself or his relationship to the world around him. According to
Feuerstein, this structure denotes "a consciousness of maximum latency and minimum
transparency."[5] The term "archaic" as used here is derived from the Greek arce, meaning inception,
or origin. Origin (or Ursprung, in the original German) is the source from which all springs, but it is
that which springs forth itself. It is the essence which is behind and which underlies consciousness. As
Gebser understands the term, "conscious is neither knowledge nor conscience but must be understood
for the time being in the broadest sense as wakeful presence."[6] This presence, or being present,
excludes two further overpowering by the past (past-orientation) or any future-oriented finality. He
writes:

<Q>It is our task to presentiate the past in ourselves, not to lose the present to the transient power of
the past. This we can achieve by recognizing the balancing power of the latent "future" with its
character of the present, which is to say, its potentiality for consciousness.[7]

At the origin, there is not past to overwhelm and the future is complete potentiality. Consequently, that
which we understand to intuit consciousness to be is qualitatively different from this original structure.
What hampers any investigation into it is the fact that we have no records, no written testimony,
regarding it. It is a state that is swallowed by the primal shadows of a far-distant past. It is referred to in
myths and legends, but these references are of a much later time. About all we can say in this regard is
that within the Archaic structure the consciousness is quite undifferentiated; it is just there, and things
just happen. Man is still unquestionably part of the whole of the universe in which he finds himself.
The process of individuation of consciousness, in any sense of the word, has not taken place. This type
of consciousness "can be likened to a dimly lit mist devoid of shadows."[8] This is not consciousness in
any sense that we understand it today. Instead, it can be likened to a state of deep sleep; one that eludes
the specification of particularity or uniqueness.
The Magic structure of consciousness
Around some unspecified time far back in our past, a change took place. Man entered into a second
phase of development and gained a new structure of consciousness, the Magical structure. This
structure is characterized by five primary characteristics: (1) its egolessness, (2) its spacelessness and
timelessness, (3) its pointlike-unitary world, (4) its interweaving with nature, and (5) its magical
reaction to the world.[9] A rudimentary self- sense was emerging and language is the real product of
this change. Words as vehicles of power are typical of this time and structure; incantations as
precursors to prayer emerged. Consciousness, in this phase, is characterized by man's intimate
association with nature.

This is perhaps the most notable characteristic regarding this structure. Man, at this time, does not
really distinguish himself apart from nature. He is a part of all that surrounds him; in the earliest stages
it is hard to conceive that he views himself apart from his environment. The plants, animals and other
elements of his surroundings share the same fate as he does; they experience in a similar manner.
Latency is still dominant; little is transparent. Magic we can define in agreement with Gustav Meyrink
as doing without knowing,[10] and it is magic man who is engaged in this activity in all aspects of his
existence. The hunting and gathering, the quest for survival are all activities that consume most of his
waking hours. But in the quiet of the evening around the fire; there is time for reflection of sorts. The
activities of the day were codified (in speech) and recounted. Memory was collective, tribal, and all
things were shared and experienced by all. The "I" is not a factor; the "we" is dominant.

This is a one-dimensional, pre-perspectival, point-like existence that occurs in a dream- like state.
Unlike the dreamlessness of the previous structure, a recognition is developing in man that he is
something different from that around him. Not fully awake to who he is or what his role in the world is,
man is recognizing his self as an entity. The forms of expression for this structure can be found in the
art and other artifacts that have been recovered from this time. Graven images and idols are what first
come to mind. However, ritual should also be considered here, for it is in the specific and directed
execution of certain actions and gestures that conveys much about this consciousness structure.
Feuerstein feels that this structure persisted till around 40,000 BC and the advent of the Cro-Magnons.

Another feature of this structure that we should bring to mind is its spacelessness and timelessness. The
idea that space and time are illusions derives from this stage in our development as human beings. The
fact that this is one of the first lessons one learns when embarking upon the esoteric path is further
evidence of this idea. To Magic Man, closely linked as he is with others of like mind, space and time
need not concern him. In fact, I am not convinced that he would understand them anyway, for there is
no need that he do so. Magic, however, is very much alive today, and it comes as no surprise (nor
should it be) that there is such a strong interest in magic today. It seems that the fast growing branches
of occult study seem to be Wicca (overlayed as it is with feminism) and similar earth magic(k) studies.
What is more, it is the most vital and emotional of all structures. We live in very decisive times,
potentially catastrophic times. This is a time when emotion rises near the surface of our consciousness
and it is here that magic manifests itself. The proliferation of stories and films dealing with Voodoo and
similar matters (e.g. The Serpent and the Rainbow) further substantiate our claim. Yet, this is not the
only structure that seems to be making a comeback these days.
The Mythical structure of consciousness
With the advent of the Cro-Magnons, man became a tool-making individual, also one who formed into
larger social structures. As Feuerstein points out, it is clear from the archaeological finds that the Cro-
Magnons had evolved a symbolic universe that was religious and shamanistic. Part of this appears to
have been a keen interest in calendric reckoning, and with it we may presume the existence of a fairly
complex mythology.[11] This structure can be considered two-dimensional since it is characterized by
fundamental polarities. Word was the reflector of inner silence; myth was the reflector of the soul.[12]
Religion appears as the interaction between memory and feeling.[13] Man is beginning to recognize
himself as opposed to others. The next 30,000 odd years or so spent developing these various
mythologies. Language is becoming ever more important, it will be noted, and not only receptive, but
active, language at that. Not the ear, but the mouth is important in making transparent what is involved
in being and life. The mouth now becomes the spiritual organ. We witness, as well, the initial
concretization of the "I" of man.

Many myths deal explicitly with man's (unperspectival) separation from nature. Witness the story of the
Fall in Genesis (and its admonition to go forth and dominate nature); and the myth of Prometheus and
the giving of fire to man. These both indicate a strong awareness of man's differentness from nature.
Man is coming into his own, although he is anything but independent of it. One could characterize this
as a two-dimensional understanding of the world. Within the circle of believers is where the important
acts of life take place. The mere forces of nature have a beingness, often anthropomorphized, but a
beingness nevertheless. Myth, then, or the mythologeme is the primary form of expression of this
period. Subsets of this basic form would be the gods, symbols and mysteries. These figures provide the
emerging consciousness with imaginative images around which to center man's knowledge and
understanding of the world. If the Magic structure of consciousness is the emotional aspect, then the
Mythical structure is the imaginative one. It is this fact that makes mythology so difficult for us as
moderns to deal with. The plethora of images (gods) and the seeming inconsistent pantheons of deities
brings the rational mind quickly to confusion. Who can keep track of all these figures, their meanings,
their correspondences and their associations. This is the time of the dream.

Up until this time, that is in the magical structure of consciousness, souls and afterlives were not of
great importance (at least we do not find a lot of evidence thereof). Yet in the fully developed mythical
consciousness, this is important. The entire civilization of Egypt, as we know it, revolved around this
very issue. When we are told, then, in certain rosicrucian documents that we must descend into Egypt,
we are being told that we must regain, not revert to, our mythical heritage.

Mouths begin to play a more important role. Not only is the shaman and wise person of the tribe a
repository of wisdom, others, the poets, such as Homer, begin to play a more important role in the
culture. This does not really begin to happen until the mythical structure of consciousness, however.
The "I" of man is not yet fully developed, to be sure, but it has developed to that point that it recognizes
and demands a separation from nature, from its environment. We can take this as evidence of an
increasing crystallization of the ego. We are on the way to selfhood.

Of course, mythology is very much alive today. This explains the popularity of Joseph Campbell and
his work on myth. It explains the appeal that Robert Bly and his "Gathering of Men" workshops have.
What both Campbell and Bly do is tell stories: imaginative, intuitively understood stories that reveal to
us things that our current rational mode of thinking prohibits us from knowing. We have much to learn
from myth, however, and should be ever aware of its influences.

The Mental structure of consciousness


The next shift in consciousness took place between 10,000 B.C. and 500 B.C. This was the transition to
the Mental structure of consciousness. It was at this time that man, to use Gebser's image, stepped out
of the mythical circle (two-dimensional) into three- dimensional space. Mythology had become so
deficient (and it should be noted that each structure has its "efficient" as well as "deficient" form), that
man needed a clean break with the past. The plethora of gods and contradictory stories of creation,
formation of institutions, and so on threatened to overwhelm the consciousness of man; he practi- cally
stood on the verge of drowning in a deluge of mythological mentation. In reaction to this, Socrates,
Plato, Aristotle, and of course, Pythagoras stepped forth to counteract this trend. The mental structure
was inaugurated and this coincides with the "discovery" of "causality," Abstraction becomes a key
word to describe mental activity and we find man using his mind to overcome and "master" the world
around him. With abstraction comes philosophizing, hence the philosopheme is the primary form of
expression. Monotheism almost universally replaces the plethora of gods of bygone days; dogma, in
both allegory and creed, replaces the symbols of previous times; method replaces the mysteries as man
develops an ever-increasing desire to penetrate, and, of course, master nature. This has given rise to the
idea of science as the dominant religion of today. Also at this time, time itself was conceptualized
(spatialized) as an "arrow" that points from the past to the future by way of the present.[14]

About the time of the Renaissance, man came into his own and really mastered space. It was at this
time that perspective was actually introduced into art. Since that time, perspective has come to be a
major part and aspect of our mental functioning. Perspective is the life blood of reasoning and the
Rational structure of consciousness, which Gebser considers to be only a deficient form of the Mental
structure. What we have is the full development of the ego and its related centeredness. We conceive
things, events and phenomena in terms of our own perspectives, often at the expense of others. The
eye, it will be seen (and the last of the openings in the head), becomes the spiritual organ representative
of this structure. Our language, our entire imagery and dominant metaphor takes on visual, spatial
character. Space is finally overcome, in the true sense of the word. With the supercession of space, man
finally accomplishes his egoistic, individual separation from nature. In this concretization of the "I," we
become very aware of our existence, of our beingness, of our individuality. And so it should be. But in
a deficient mode, the outcomes, of course, are loneliness, isolation, and alienation, which are so
characteristic of our own American culture. In fact, our current materialistic approach to understanding
reality is perhaps the final stage of this structure. There is also much everyday evidence to indicate that
we are moving through a great change at this time.

We should remember, however, that this is also the time of philosophy. The mental ordering and
systematization of thought becomes the real dominant mode of expression. The myths have lost their
vibrancy and existential connection to reality. Greek thought followed later by the Scholastics and
finally the Enlightenment are all periods in which this particular structure of consciousness flourishes
and strongly manifests. It is not without its opposition, of course, since any change will bring about the
requisite opposition to its own development. By the time of the Renaissance, though, this structure had
firmly established itself and was prepared to move into the next phase of its development. At this time,
as was pointed out earlier, a very profound and significant event occurred: man incorporated space into
his thought. We cannot underestimate, or overstate, the importance of this development. It is literally at
this time that the world begins to shrink. The seeds of our one world community are planted at this
time. The ripples begun during the magical structure are widening significantly: first spirit, then soul,
now space have become constituents of man's consciousness. Three dimensions have been established
and we are prepared for the next significant step we are taking now.

The Integral Structure of Consciousness


As can be guessed, then, Gebser feels that we are on the threshold of a new structure of consciousness,
namely the Integral. For Gebser, this structure integrates those which have come before and enable the
human mind to transcend the limitations of three- dimensionality. A fourth dimension, time, if you will,
is added. This integration is not simply a union of seemingly disparate opposites, rather it is the
"irruption of qualitative time into our consciousness."[15] The supercession of time is a theme that will
play an extremely important role in this structure. In fact, the ideas of arationality (as opposed to the
rationality of the current structure), aperspectivity (as opposed to the perspective, spatially determined
mentation of the current structure), and diaphaneity (the transparent recognition of the whole, not just
parts) are significant characteristics of this new structure. Stated differently, the tensions and relations
between things are more important, at times, than the things themselves; how the relationships develop
over time takes precedence to the mere fact that a relationship exists. It will be this structure of
consciousness that will enable us to overcome the dualism of the mental structure and actually
participate in the transparency of self and life. This fourth structure toward which we are moving is one
of minimum latency and maximum transparency; diaphaneity is one of its hallmarks. Transparency is
not a "not seeing" as one does not see the pane of glass though which one looks out a window, rather
one sees through things and perceives their true nature. Statements about truth are superseded by
statements as truth. Verition not description is what we experience and know. Philosophy is replaced by
eteology; that is, the eteon, or being-in-truth.[16]

This structure is difficult to describe since it depends to a great deal on experience, not just that we
have them, but on how intense they are and what we glean from them for now and the future. Intensity
is a key characteristic of this mode of consciousness. By intensity, I do not mean simply an emotional
relationship to experience or the feeling or deepening of emotion itself. This would be a magical
response not an integral one. Perhaps it would be best to review a few examples of what is meant by
fourth dimensionality, arationality and aperspectivity.

Let us start with intensity and use the analogy of love. Love is the energy (yet it has only recently been
referred to as such) or the driving force behind true spirituality and spiritual growth. We learn early as
mystics and students of the other arts, that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. This is, in fact,
one of the two great commandments given us by the Christ and the theme of Love is one that was very
strongly developed by the great apostle, Saint Paul, as well. However, it is easy to love those who are
our neighbors (even though at times they are exasperating) because they are so much like us. We
recognize ourselves in them and so we love them. The affinity of interests, locale, or any other of
myriad possibilities makes loving those who are like us a joy. We fulfill our spirituality by adhering to
this commandment; it is a yoke that we gladly bear. Nevertheless, this love is a three-dimensional love
at best. We love those who fit neatly into our perspectives of being and life. We choose who they are
and when and how often we extend that love to them. An integral love, a fourth dimensional love,
though, would go beyond that. The Christ also informed us of what that love is when he admonished us
to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is this love that is intense for it is required
without asking our opinion (our point of view, our perspective) of it. This is the love of Judas. This is a
demanding love that not many are willing to offer.
Gebser's Eteology
Each structure has had its "method" even if it was not characterized as such. Magic and the ritualistic
invocation of other powers is a method, whether we recognize it as such or not. Visualization and
mystical contemplation is also a method of knowledge acquisition and it served a useful and valuable
purpose at one point in our development. In the transition from Mythical to Mental, however, a
rejection of previous method arose, particularly in our now deficient, Rational structure. This was part
of a natural process, I believe, for the rational cannot tolerate anything other than itself. This in no way
negates the value of the mental approach for the scientific method has proven to be a very useful, albeit
limited, way to garner knowledge. But, just as the scientific method became the predominant means of
acquiring and evaluating knowledge in the Mental structure of consciousness, a new structure demands
a new method. This is the dynamic aspect, then, of Gebser's approach. Two notions characterize this
methodology and both are newly coined terms: systasis and synairesis, and it is upon these that we will
focus our attention in this section.

Systasis and Synairesis


It is difficult to separate these concepts for they are intimately related to one another. What is more,
such an artificial separation is indicative of a mental-rational approach, to which we are trying not to
fall prey. It should be remembered that the analytical separation demanded of this approach ultimately
ends in death, and it is life, the birth of a new method, that we seek. The method which Gebser
describes is predicated on the idea of the eteologeme which was introduced earlier. It is this "being-in-
truth" which lies at the heart of his approach. Up until now, particularly within the scientific
community, the necessary, sometimes forceful, separation of subject and object has been required. It is
this dualism that must be transcended if we are to arrive at a more comprehensive, intensive
understanding of the world around us and ourselves. Consequently, Gebser's approach should not be
considered the building of a system in our current understanding of the term, for such would also be a
product of a three-dimensional mentality.

But, the question arises, "What lies beyond system?" And to answer this particular question, Gebser
coins a neologism to describe his approach, namely systasis, which he defines as, if you will, "the
conjoining or fitting together of parts into integrality,"[17] "a process whereby partials merge or are
merged with the whole."[18] This is a subtle and difficult concept to understand completely and in all
its ramifications. It has in common with system building that the end result is a greater or better
comprehension than at the outset of the process. System, however, deals always with parts, not with the
whole. Also, system deals primarily with the product rather than the process. Gebser goes on:

[Systasis'] acategorical element is the integrating dimension by which the three- dimensional spatial
world, which is always a world of parts, is integrated into a whole in such a way that it can be stated.
This already implies that it is not an ordering schema paralleling that of system. We must especially
avoid the error of considering systasis -- which is both process and effect -- as that which is effected,
for if we do we reduce it to a causal system. We must be aware that systasis has an effective character
within every system. Systasis is not a mental concept, nor is it a mythical image (say) in the sense of
Heraclitus' panta rei ("all things are in flux"), nor is it a magic postulation of the interconnection of
everything to and with everything else. And finally, it is not integral, but integrating.[19]

Or as Feuerstein phrases it, "Systasis, in contrast to systematization, deals with the proper 'arrangement'
of intensities (rather than quantified 'extensities')."[20]
What, then (to express it in mental rational terms), is the aim of this method. We have spoken of
increased understanding, of more complete comprehension, but these are only approximations. It is
here that Gebser introduces the second of this important pair of notions, namely synairesis "which is an
integral understanding, or perception, of reality."[21] More specifically, Gebser notes,

Synairesis comes from synaireo, meaning "to synthesize, collect," notably in the sense of "everything
being seized or grasped on all sides, particularly by the mind or spirit."[22] Whereas synthesis is a
logical-causal conclusion, a mental (trinitary) unification of thesis and antithesis (and falls apart
because it becomes itself a thesis as a result of the dividing, perspectival perception), synairesis is an
integral act of completion "encompassing all sides" and perceiving aperspectivally.[23]

And again:

The synairesis which systasis makes possible integrates phenomena, freeing us in the
diaphany of "a-waring" or perceiving truth from space and time.[24]

This freedom from space and time is an important notion in Gebser's entire approach, not just in his
method. It will be remembered that one of the key features of this approach is its incorporation of the
notions of latency and transparency. What has passed is not dropped and forgotten (although this is
what the mental-rational structure of consciousness tempts us to do), rather it is incorporated into our
mentation as effective elements thereof. As Feuerstein has pointed out, "it is this insight into the
continuing presence and efficacy of the past that distinguishes Gebser's model of the unfolding of
human consciousness from other similar attempts."[25] I would hasten to add that it is the equal
efficacy of the future that rounds out and completes Gebser's poignant insight. Feuerstein writes,

And that [synairetic] perception, or "verition," occurs on the basis of the integration of archaic
presentiment, magical attunement (or what Gebser calls "symbiosis"), mythical symbolization, and
mental-rational systematization in the integrative act of arational systasis. Here it is important to
remember that all structures are co-present (and co- active) in us and hence need not be invoked
through historical imagination.[26]

Not being bound by merely past or future is a theme that has permeated much of our discussion of
Gebser thus far. This time- and space-free approach introduces a further dimension to our ability to
perceive and state:

By introducing systasis into simple methodology, we are able to evince a new "method" which is not
longer three-dimensional. This new method is four-dimensional diaphany; in this what is merely
conceivable and comprehensible becomes transparent. Diaphany is based on synairesis, on the
eteological completion of systasis and system to an integral whole, for integrality is only possible
where "temporal" elements and spatial magnitudes are brought together synairetically. The concept
which makes possible the "comprehension" or, more exactly, the perception of the "temporal elements"
is that of systasis. If we also take into account the systatic concepts, the mere methodology of systems is
intensified to synairetic diaphany; and this must be achieved unless we are to remain caught in the
three-dimensional scheme of thought.[27]

In its supercession of three-dimensionality, Gebser's method firmly entrenches the observer in the
process of perception and "waring." This grounding, if you will, is described by Gebser through the
term "concretion," "the integrative act by which otherwise merely abstract proposition are anchored in
actual life." Consequently, this approach is immanently practical, yet does not fall prey to the
weaknesses of pragmatism, namely its relativism and short-term expediency. It demands that the
observer be as aware of his own role in the process as being aware of the process, and its results
themselves.

The integrator, then, is compelled to have not only concretized the appearances, be they material or
mental, but also to have been able to concretize his own structure. This means that the various
structures that constitute him must have become transparent and conscious to him; it also means that he
has perceived their effect on his life and destiny, and mastered the deficient components by his insight
so that they acquire the degree of maturity and equilibrium necessary for any concretion. Only those
components that are in this way themselves balanced, matured, and mastered concretions can effect an
integration.[29]

The means of knowing and knowledge itself become integral aspects of Gebser's methodological
approach. The mere illumination of what was not previously known and understood, that is philosophy,
must then yield to eteology, or being-in-truth. "The Greek word eteos means 'true, real'; as an adverb,
eteon means 'in accord with truth, truly, really' and comes from the root se:es, meaning "to be."[30]

Eteology
It is the comprehensiveness of this term that has brought us to choose it as the prime means of
describing Gebser's approach. The new structure of consciousness to which we are transitioning
demands new means, new processes, and new methods. It should be repeated that this ushering in of
the new in no way indicates or dictates a discarding of what has come before, far from it. We must keep
in mind that it is the activity and presence of the past that distinguishes Gebser's approach from others.
Supercession does not mean invalidating; replacement in this context intimates an intensification rather
than a nullification. Nevertheless, the inevitability of this transition should be recognized as well. This
particular term best illustrates this new way of understanding. Eteology is then a new form of
statement. But it should be noted:
We are speaking advisedly of "forms of statement" here and not of forms of representation. Only our
concept of "time" is a representational form, bound -- like all forms of representation -- to space. The
search for a new form of representation would give rise to the error of establishing a new
philosopheme at the very moment that philosophy of an individual stamp is over. What is necessary
today to turn the tide of our situation are not new philosophemes like the phenomenological,
ontological, or existential, but eteologemes.
Eteology must replace philosophy just as philosophy once replaced the myths. In the eteologemes, the
eteon or being-in-truth comes to veracity or statement of truth, and the "wares" or guards verity and
conveys the "verition" which arises from the a-waring and imparting of truth. Eteology, then, is neither
a mere ontology, that is, theory of being, nor is it a theory of existence. The dualistic question of being
versus non-being which is commensurate only with the mental structure is superseded by eteology,
together with the secularized question as to being, whose content -- or more exactly whose vacuity -- is
nothing more than existence.
Every eteologeme is a "verition," and as such is valid only when it allows origin to become transparent
in the present. To do this it must be formulated in such a way as to be free of ego, and this means not
just free of subject but also free of object; only then does it sustain the verity of the whole. This has
nothing to do with representation; only in philosophical thought can the world be represented; for the
integral perception of truth, the world is pure statement, and thus "verition."[31]
We can see, then, that this approach places great demands upon us all. It is not sufficient to merely
describe or approximate, rather we are required to show what is in its fullest essence. This has, I
believe, far-reaching ramifications for science and its allocation of recognition and funding. The actual
contribution of knowledge, its freedom from the constraints imposed upon the researcher due to fiscal,
economic, academic or political reasons must all be let go in favor of a direct, revelation of truth. This
will not be an easy task for many, especially those who are bound to what is "right" as opposed to what
is "true." We see this reflected in all aspects of our societal lives. Eteology is an approach of liberation.

It will be noted that we have not attempted a systematization of criteria and measures that are to be
used in our subsequent evaluations. This would be out of step with the free-form nature of the approach
described thus far. Yet Gebser does not leave us without assistance in this regard. He provides a list of
key terms that will assist in identifying the themes and motifs of the aperspectival world, and these are:

The whole,
integrity,
transparency (diaphaneity),
the spiritual (the diaphainon),
the supercession of the ego,
the realization of timelessness,
the realization of temporicity,
the realization of the concept of time,
the realization of time-freedom (the achronon),
the disruption of the merely systematic,
the incursion of dynamics,
the recognition of energy,
the mastery of movement,
the fourth dimension,
the supercession of patriarchy,
the renunciation of dominance and power,
the acquisition of intensity,
clarity (instead of mere wakefulness),
and the transformation of the creative inceptual basis.[32]

Summary
The focus here has been Gebser's approach to understanding the unfoldment of human consciousness.
The first part dealt exclusively with the model examining each of Gebser's structures of consciousness
in turn: the Archaic, Magical, Mythical, Mental, and Integral. We saw the Archaic structure could best
be described as a zero- dimensional, non-perspectival world which could be likened to a state of deep
sleep. It was characterized by non-differentiation and the total absence of any sense of separation from
the environment. This was a world of identity between self and surroundings; not a world in which we
could speak of consciousness in any terms that would be meaningful to our modern understanding of
the term. By contrast, the Magical structure was characterized by a certain separateness, but not a total
separation by any means. Dimensionally this could be described as one-dimensional; a pre-perspectival
state of timelessness and spacelessness. It was likened to a state of sleep. Magic man was much a part
of his environment, to be sure, and felt secure only within his group, his tribe or clan. It was the
transition from the Archaic to Magic structure of consciousness that has probably been mythologically
captured in the story of the "Fall of Man." The clothing of knowledge in myth is what characterized the
transition to the Mythical structure of consciousness, the two-dimensional, unperspectival state of
consciousness that can best be likened to a dream. Imagination and attunement with natural rhythms
became important factors in man's life. The separation begun in the Magic structure reaches a tensional
climax in the Mythical. This structure is superseded by the Mental structure, whose appearance
coincides with the rise of Greek civilization. In this regard, it can be seen that modern thought
disregards a good deal of mankind's history, for it is to the Greeks that we most often trace our
intellectual roots. By comparison, the Mental structure of consciousness is a three-dimensional,
perspectival world that we described with the term wakefulness. The polar tensions of mythology are
replaced by the analytical separation of duality and opposition. Thinking is primary, and in its latter
phase rational thinking is primary. But this structure, too, is yielding to a final mutation which Gebser
identifies as the Integral structure of consciousness. This is described as a four-dimensional,
aperspectival world of transparency. This is a time-free, space-free, subject- and object-free world of
verition.

Finally, we examined the methodological aspects of Gebser's approach. Here, three fundamental
notions were involved: systasis, synairesis, and eteology. The first term, systasis, best describes
Gebser's approach. It was seen that systasis goes beyond mere synthesis, which is a mental-rational
concept, to achieve a total integration of all parts simultaneously. Synairesis was the means of
achieving the end just described. It emphasized the how of such total grasping, namely by the mind or
spirit. It is synairesis that enables us to achieve the transparency that is indicative of the Integral
structure of consciousness. Finally, eteology replaces philosophy as the way of knowing and acquiring
knowledge. Eteology becomes the statement of truth in lieu of the philosophical statement about truth.
We saw that this approach goes beyond the limitations of space- and time-perception to a complete and
liberating understanding of the whole. It should be noted that this transition is in process; it is not yet a
completed act.

Endnotes
[1] Jean Gebser, The Ever-present origin (Authorized translation by Noel Barstad with Algis Mikunas.
Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1986).
[2] Georg Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness: The genius of Jean Gebser &shyp; An introduction
and critique. (Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987), p. 32.
[3] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 6.
[4] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 6.
[5] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 51.
[6] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 42.
[7] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 43.
[8] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 57.
[9] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 61.
[10] Gustav Meyrink, Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster(Bremen: Schuenemann, n.d.),
p. 426, as quoted in Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 60.
[11] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 75.
[12] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 79.
[13] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, pp. 87f.
[14] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 98.
[15] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 130.
[16] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 309.
[17] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 310.
[18] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 292, Note 4; see also Feuerstein, <i>Structures of
Consciousness, p. 194.
[19] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 310.
[20] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 194.
[21] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, pp. 194-195.
[22] Menge-Güthling, Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch(Berlin: Langenscheidt, 281910),
p. 542.
[23] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 312, Note 5.
[24] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 311.
[25] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 192.
[26] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 195.
[27] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 334. It is also interesting to note that Arthur Young
develops his Geometry of meaning (Mill Valley, CA: Richard Briggs, Associates,
1976) on an increase of dimensionality as well. Although approaching the matter from quite
different perspectives, their conclusions are remarkably similary in many regards. The
notion of dimensionality, therefore, may be more fundamental than we generally suppose.
[28] Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 198.
[29] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 99.
[30] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 312, Note 4.
[31] Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 309.
[32] Gebser, Ever-present origin, pp. 361-362.

Copyright © 1996 by Ed Mahood, jr. All rights reserved.

Ed Mahood, jr., PhD, MBA


Synairetic Research
PO Box 111504
Campbell, CA 95011-1504
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