There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
—Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"
When my children were little, I read them a book called Young Zeus (G. Brian Karas, 2010), an illustrated recapitulation of the early life of the mythical Zeus. The book follows his story until he, together with his siblings, overcome their father Kronos and the other Titans, to rule the world from their home on Mount Olympus.
The chief thing that struck me about the story was the relationship with the monsters the Olympians' fathers and uncles had imprisoned in the underworld of Tartarus. These were their cousins the Cyclopes, "Circle-eyes," and Hecatoncheires, "Hundred-Handed Ones" guarded by the monster Kampe, "silkworm" or "caterpillar." Zeus learns that the battle with the Titans can only be won with the help of these underworld creatures, so he works to free them.
In the illustrated version, Zeus enters Tartarus armed with a special kind of honey to relax the fabulous jailoress. Having fed her the honey, she sleeps and he frees the underworld creatures, extracting their promise that they will assist him in the battle with the Titans. The Cyclopes and Hundred Handers are amenable, as it was the Titans who had first imprisoned them.
The writer Joseph Campbell taught that ancient myths are true in their allegorical descriptions of the features and landscape of the human inner life. He invited readers to see every aspect of the stories, not as narratives involving external events or characters, but as precise descriptions of the inner world. He included religious texts in this category with the understanding that ancient myths are vestigial scripture and sources of worldview for societies of the past.
As I read about Zeus and the underworld creatures to my children with Joseph Campbell's guidance in view, I felt a real importance in the story. It seemed to contain some instruction or teaching in a form meant to elude the analysis of the mind and speak directly to a deeper, unconscious part of my psyche. The story suggested to me a means of reconciling with the powerful impulses buried in the latent and instinctive parts of our nature.
I intuited that the underworld creatures relate to the powerful instinctive drives for survival. These include drives for health, safety, and the accumulation of resources; the drive for social connection and maintaining reliable relationships; and the sexual drive which is not only for physical sex but also for "pushing the envelope" in myriad ways. Albeit unconsciously, these drives make our decisions and motivate our actions.
When these instinctive impulses are unconscious, relegated to the underworld, their manifestation is furtive, compulsive, addictive, shrouded in a fog of urgency and denial. Consciousness of their operation and power is absent.
The denial of instinctive needs may be at the root of the diseased life of human beings in the present epoch. We are driven to diverse prophylactics against imagined threats out of fear of discomfort or even survival. We are starved for meaningful connections and seek them in conditions removed from physical, atmospheric human contact. Sex becomes fetishized or a misguided means of feeling power or identity. All of these are poor translations of the needs and satisfactions available for experience within the body.
Conscious and inhabited, the drives become the power plant of manifestation in the direction of a heart's desire. Bringing the instinctive drives to consciousness is the liberation of the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires from imprisonment in the underworld. Freed, they may come to our aid in unseating the ego-mind from its tyrannical seat of power.
Zeus's approach to the terrible Kampe is instructive. He feeds and satisfies her so that she is able to relax. I see in this an approach to working with the liberation of latent and instinctive sources of power in the psyche. We are invited to approach our unconscious parts with offers of satisfaction, intentionally providing what this deep part of our nature truly needs.
We may find ways to content the body's appetite for nourishment, for sex and creative work, and for social connection. In this way, the satisfaction of the instincts becomes conscious, welcomed to unabashedly participate in life. Herein we may liberate some attention from striving to satisfy starved and imprisoned instincts, and consider aims worth having.