Cult of Personality Vs. Kali: Who Will Win?


In an early post from 2011 titled Qaddafi Vs. Kali: Who Will Win?, I wrote that the film Avatar highlights the differences between the heroic and immature ego. Avatar’s hero, Corporal Jake Sully, succeeds because of his bravery, receptivity to Princess Neytiri and her culture, and willingness to heed his wise and truth-pursuing mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. His adversary, the obsessive and soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch (there’s an interesting similarity between his name and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’as, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.

Some of you might not remember Muammar Qaddafi, so here are a few excepts from Wikipedia. Qaddafi

“…was a Libyan revolutionary, politician and political theorist.

“Amid the 2011 Arab Spring, protests against widespread corruption and unemployment broke out in eastern Libya. The situation descended into civil war, in which Nato intervened militarily on the side of the anti-Gaddafist National Transitional Council (NTC). The government was overthrown, and Gaddafi retreated to Sirte, only to be captured and killed by by NTC militants.

“A highly divisive figure, Gaddafi dominated Libya’s politics for four decades and was the subject of a pervasive cult of personality….he was posthumously accused of sexual abuse. He was condemned by many as a dictator whose authoritarian administration violated human rights and financed global terrorism.”

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of cult of personality:

“A cult of personality, or cult of the leaderarises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organised demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.”

Is this what we’re seeing in the U.S. today? If so, why? Here’s a psychological explanation. Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. It attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing it is the supreme authority of the psyche and the center of the world around us; and second, by rejecting otherness, which in Jungian psychology is associated with the feminine unconscious. As long as we function in this mode, sharing our power and trusting the wisdom of forces we consider inferior is unthinkable.

The old ego’s belief in its superiority created, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. In extreme cases, hierarchies can create a cult of personality surrounding an inflated ego which fought its way to the top believing its powerful position would immunize it from the suffering and failures of those below. To someone like this, losing to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people, including the Biblical Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other — as a force with far more power than our puny ego, is, in Jung’s words, an “unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness” that produces shattering emotion.

In my original post about Qaddaffi, published when he was still alive, I imagined he might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions as he faced growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he even questioned  his God. After all, if he who did everything right to gain such a wondrous position of power could be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what had his life been all about? This is how every ego feels when confronted with the power of repressed otherness. Losing control feels like a violation. Like utter unfairness. Like death, the ultimate feminine mystery.

In Hinduism this mystery is symbolized by an aspect of the Great Mother known as Kali, the Mistress of the Dead who reminds us that when new healing is required, the old ways must change or die. Her natural cycles of birth/death/rebirth terrify the Old King/Warrior/Ego who wants to escape the darker demands of growing up: things like aging, becoming vulnerable in relationships, being humbled by a loss of power, money, status, loved ones, or health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling, banishing or destroying otherness proves his omnipotence and protects him from the Great Mother’s power. It doesn’t. The Old King/Ego aided the survival of our species, but the rules have changed. Now he is a dinosaur whose dominator mind-set is rapidly becoming extinct.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Fearful, immature egos currently control the U.S. government, hoping to delude, confuse, and attract followers via divisive tactics and a cult of personality. Stalin, Hitler, and Qadaffi did the same and lost. Why? Because humans are wired to grow into wisdom and maturity. To rise above our self-centered egos, to become less fearful and more humble and respectful. To befriend the otherness of our unconscious selves and other people, religions, races, genders, and nations. And if we can’t manage that, Kali — who lives in each of us and in the collective unconscious of our country — will force us to. It’s nature’s way.

The U.S. has been infected by the cult of personality and we are in desperate need of change. Dying to the old patriarchal ego and aiding the birth of a nation with a heroic ego is the great work to which each of us is called. What kinds of leaders will we vote into office next November? Will we, like the brave Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing the otherness in ourselves and others? Or will we bring the wrath of Kali down upon our nation because our egos are too frightened of the darker demands of growing up?

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14 Responses

  1. I just pulled out and leafed through a wonderful booklet on Kali,the feminine force, by Ajit Mookerjee (1988) – with powerful and fearsome illustrations, paintings and sculptures, depicting the divine force the mother goddess represents since thousands of years.
    This is then the time again when suppressed energy will seek the way towards equilibrium. It’s painful to witness the ridiculous attempts to resist this energy by building more walls.

    1. Exactly, so, courseofmirrors. The gods and goddesses of myth and religion symbolize very real and very powerful forces within us that behave in predictable ways in all humans, in every culture throughout the world, regardless of what names we give them. Kali is the suppressed feminine energy that will always seek the way towards equilibrium. The 20th century saw two world wars and myriad smaller ones, clear evidence that we still have not understood the importance of self-reflection and self-knowledge. It is not the person onto whom we project our fear who will destroy humanity. If that happens we will only have our ignorance of ourselves to blame.

  2. Dear Jeanie,
    Wow! Firstly, I would like to encourage your readers to return to your original post (August 2011) with the sole purpose of reading the rich, wonderful replies you received back then, most especially Joseph Antony’s beautiful, poetical response re Kali and your own sage answer to Sandy when you wrote, “Life has a way of bringing us all to our knees eventually” which is so true!
    Secondly, I’m drawn to this concluding question, “Will we, like the brave Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing the otherness in ourselves and others?” How important this question is i feel as I/we strive to further integrate our personal/collective shadows (above and below) and hopefully as we become less judgmental about ourselves, we will become less judgmental about others.
    Such a simple yet life-changing truth. Shadow work is vital, now more than ever!
    Thank you so much for re-posting this olden but golden article! Like Kali, it holds such great depth, terror and wisdom … deserving many a reread as one cannot digest such richness in one sitting alone. Oh, I feel a re-run of the fantastic movie “Avatar” hitting my screen any day soon! I hope the day finds you well.
    Warm autumnal wishes, Deborah.

    1. Hi Deborah,
      Yes! Thank you for bringing the Shadow into this conversation. Fear of otherness is a part of just about everyone’s Shadow. It has to do with our instinct for survival. But for some of us it’s a much bigger part of our lives than for others who are more open to seeing and trusting the positive potential in others.
      I’ve read (don’t remember the source) that a strong tendency to distrust and fear others (and ‘otherness’ of any sort, whether in music, food, lifestyle, sexuality, clothing, job choices, etc.) is an inherited trait that colors every aspect of one’s life, including relationships and political and spiritual beliefs. The formula reads: more fear = more conservatism and insistence on orthodoxy combined with less flexibility, trust, and openness to anything unfamiliar and different.
      Of course, it’s terribly difficult to see and admit to our fears, and even harder to get rid of them. The ego is naturally afraid of the unknown forces in the unconscious and masterful at finding all kinds of reasons to avoid exploring it! It takes great courage (or desperation; or luck?) to face the terrors of the deep….
      Shadow work is, indeed, vital, now more than ever!
      I want to see Avatar again too. I just loved that film!
      Warm blessings, Jeanie

  3. I’m glad you’re looking at contemporary issues Jeanie using myth to show how those dynamics still operate from way back when. It is always of interest to me that though the place, time, circumstance and people are different to mythological times, that same unresolved dynamic is alive and not so well …
    Sometimes it seems to me that we must bear the brunt and full force of utter destruction and that hopefully like the Phoenix we can arise again from the ashes. I’m not going to say bring it on Kali … but I will say say that the return from destruction is what is meaningful ..
    Thanks Deborah for pointing out the exact date of the original post. I look forward to going back and reading it.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I’m deeply interested in how myths reflect very real forces in us and our lives. But I find it much easier to express my insights about how they influence me as an individual than about how they influence contemporary issues and society in general.
      People tend to take sides — and offense — so quickly and things go rapidly downhill into conflicts I don’t want any part of. Still, now and then I feel a strong need to stick my neck out a little, as I did in this one, in the hope that it might somehow speak to someone who’s thinking about looking deeper into themselves…..
      Always the dreamer. 🙂

  4. Respectfully submitted Jeanie – this just seems so appropriate to this blog entry. Here we find blues singer Koko Taylor soulfully singing from a position of the power of the dark goddess … her seeking out the (her) authentic and mature masculine principle that can bring balance and completion in the integration of opposites. We were just blasting this in the car yesterday … and for me the timing is wonderful … falling into place as it did in my ‘waking-dream’ symbolism during my read of your blog this morning. Yes, I might be stretching things a bit … but it sure is fun.
    (“There are, and always have been, those who cannot help but see that the world and its experiences are in the nature of a symbol, and that it really reflects something that lies hidden in the subject himself.” – C. G. Jung )
    say hey hey ya’ll
    mother nature’s back in town
    I’m here to take care of business
    ain’t got time to fool around
    I’m looking for my man ya’ll
    I’m serious as a heart attack
    Now one a-you women stole him
    and I’m here to get him back
    Don’t mess with mother nature
    cause you’ll be sorry if you do
    I’ll rain on your parade
    and I’ll stomp all over you
    I got up early early this morning
    I had lovin on my mind
    would have found me someone else
    but I’m not the cheating kind
    so I’m giving you fair warning
    every word I say is true
    If you’ve got my man turn him loose
    if you know what’s good for you
    don’t mess with mother nature
    you’ll be sorry if you do
    I’ll rain on your parade
    and I’ll stomp all over you
    I’m just about through talking
    I’ve said all I have to say
    and if you think I’m bluffing
    go ahead and make my day
    I’ll be on you like a lightning
    I’ve got thunder in my hand
    I’ll do whatever it takes
    but I’m being the best I can
    don’t mess with mother nature
    you’ll be sorry if you do
    I’ll rain on your parade
    and I’ll stomp all over you

    1. WOW! “Don’t mess with Mother Nature …” That was AWESOME! Thank you so much for including the lyrics too! What a voice an’ some! Warm autumnal blessings, Deborah.

  5. Oh, WOW! You have just sent me my favorite kind of music! LOVE the blues. Discovering it was one of my favorite things about moving to the south! Synchronistically, I’ve just come back to my computer after practicing my guitar….and yes, I played some blues! Badly…. but I’m learning. I’ve never heard of Koko Taylor but she’ll be a favorite from now on! Thank you, sincerely for livening up my blog with this!!! 🙂

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