By Paul Levy
As the Native American word ‘wetiko’ more and more enters popular vernacular, many people still don’t really understand what it means, thinking of wetiko as a vague, abstract idea that has something to do with evil. I am hard-pressed to find anything in our world today that is more strikingly relevant and crucial to understand than what is meant by wetiko, for more than anything else I’ve encountered, it captures and sheds critically needed light on the nature of the collective psychosis that currently afflicts humanity. Called by many different names throughout history, it is not an understatement to say that if we don’t understand what the notion of wetiko—a mind-virus that exists in the shared collective unconscious of our species—is illuminating, we will be ill-fated, doomed to continue our inexorable march towards destroying everything we hold dear, including ourselves.
In trying to point out what is meant by the idea of wetiko, I have been accused of not having evidence for such an ‘out there’ and crazy-sounding theory such as a virus of the mind. The irony is that the evidence for what I am talking about is so overwhelmingly pervasive—it is all around us (as well as inside of us)—that it is easy to miss due to its omnipresence and obviousness. To use a primary example, wetiko underlies and informs the archetypal process of addiction that is rampant in our world today. This is to say that the essential dynamics at the core of addiction map onto the key features of the underlying dynamics of wetiko. In shedding light on the dynamics of addiction, we can therefore deepen our understanding of wetiko.
To the extent we are not free, we are possessed by something stronger than and other than ourselves, which is to say, we are in the throes of the addictive process. Addiction connotes images of substance abuse, but this is only one type of addiction. Many of us are addicted to perspectives, to ideas, to other people, to our suffering, to our ‘process,’ to our story, to shopping, to distracting ourselves from looking within, to thinking, or to our sense of a separate self, among many other things.
Jungian psychoanalyst David E. Schoen, author of the excellent book The War of the Gods in Addiction, in emphasizing the central role that the psyche plays in the process of how addiction takes over a person, is precisely describing how the wetiko virus works. In his work on addiction, instead of using the word ‘wetiko,’ Schoen refers to it as the “Addiction-Shadow-Complex,” which is composed of the interaction between the addictive behavior, the personal shadow and archetypal evil.
The addictive behavior becomes a pathway for the repressed, unconscious aspect of the personal shadow to freely express itself, thereby insinuating itself into the personality by vampirically feeding on the wellsprings of vital energy that comprise a healthy human being. In a mutually reinforcing feedback loop which over time can subtly metastasize into the core of the personality, the personal shadow becomes increasingly dependent upon the addictive behavior for its expression, while the addictive behavior feeds off of and is strengthened by the personal shadow.
This unholy alliance opens up the door for the transpersonal forces of darkness—archetypal evil—to eventually, over time, gain the upper hand (i.e., assume control) of such a weakened, debilitated, addiction-ridden psyche, fueling the whole soul-destroying enterprise. As the personal and transpersonal shadow elements align, an insidious self-amplifying cycle is created that can easily turn into a degenerative downward spiral that greases the path for our potential self-destruction through the addiction (whatever the specific form of the addiction might be).
The Addiction-Shadow-Complex literally takes over, deposes and displaces the normal ruling ego, replacing it with itself. In taking over the workings of someone’s mind, the Addiction-Shadow-Complex supplants it with a spurious simulation of its own automated psyche, one devoid of any real creativity whatsoever. As the Addiction-Shadow-Complex takes root in the psyche, the person so possessed identifies with this impersonator, a counterfeit version of themselves, assuming the mind they are experiencing is their own—while the truth is that what they experience as themselves is anything but. This is why the Apocryphal texts of the Bible refer to the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko as “the counterfeiting spirit.” Schoen writes:
The Addiction-Shadow-Complex replaces the ruling ego complex with its own ruler, a puppet pseudo-king who serves ultimately only the desires, interests, and agendas of the addiction, which cares nothing for any other values or needs of the person, the psyche or the true Self, or for anyone or anything else … there is a permanent hijacking of the entire psychic system; the normal ego complex and all its functions are as if put under a powerful diabolical spell…. The addiction then replaces the old system with an entire ruling ego system … [it is] an imposter, a liar, a deceiver and charlatan, but now the addicted person, his true Self and healthy ego, are helpless and powerless to fight or even object to the new dictatorship established by the Addiction-Shadow-Complex…. The addiction at this point completely possesses the individual person…. The prime directive is now the addiction and its agendas; everything else [all of the healthy aspects of the psyche] … [are] subsumed by it … [the addiction] is then completely in control, calling all the shots, and [the person] is merely a puppet, doing what it dictates.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Schoen is describing—word for word—the exact process of how wetiko colonizes a human psyche. Once the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko virus becomes sufficiently entrenched within the psyche, the impulses and orders coordinating a person’s behavior come from the disease, as it is now the one in the driver’s seat. As it annexes and commandeers the psyche—centralizing power and control in the process—the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko eventually incorporates a seemingly autonomous regime that establishes a brutal hegemony over the healthy parts of the personality and becomes a parasitic autocracy within the greater body politic of the psyche. Once it gains a sufficient sovereignty, the pathological complex forms something like an authoritarian, fascist regime—what Jung calls “a shadow-government of the ego”—within the psyche which then dictates to the ego.
Once the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko becomes sufficiently dissociated from the wholeness of the psyche, it manifests as if it is not under our control, seemingly having an agenda that is nonnegotiably in opposition to the sovereignty of our conscious will. Having developed an apparently independent will of its own, this autonomous complex (what indigenous people refer to as a ‘demon’), Jung writes, “thereupon becomes a tyrannical usurper of consciousness, oppressing the whole man. It throws him off course and drives him to actions whose blind one-sidedness inevitably leads to self-destruction.” When we spiral downwards into addictive, self-destructive behavior—literally turning on ourselves—this movement is sponsored by, an expression of, and nutrient for, wetiko.
Though not knowing the term ‘wetiko,’ Jung was very much aware of it, referring to wetiko by a multitude of names, notably using the term “totalitarian psychosis” because it sets up a totalitarian regime within the psyche. One of the identifying characteristics of wetiko is that it is an inner disease of the soul that has the ability to extend itself out into the external world and configure events so as to reflect—and reveal—its inner malignancy.
In a circumstance where the inner and outer worlds reflect each other, the very affliction within peoples’ psyche—the tendency towards a shadow, totalitarian regime—invariably gets collectively acted out in full-bodied form on the world stage. This is why understanding the dynamics of addiction within an individual helps us to gain traction in seeing—and thereby enabling us to know how to better deal with—the ever-increasing totalitarian nightmare that is so ominously playing out in our world.
When someone is taken over by the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko, it is as if an alien, invading power conscripts the executive function of the psyche so as to fulfill its own agenda, which is why the person taken over oftentimes acts in ways that are diametrically opposed to their own best interests. In this state of possession by the complex, the free will of the person is suspended. They are unwittingly being used as an instrument for some “other” energy or force to incarnate and express itself through them.
Once this take-over is accomplished, the person is allowed an illusionary freedom, but only so long as it doesn’t threaten the sovereignty and dominance of the archon-like “ruling” power of the autonomous complex. Interestingly, the Gnostics’ (“the ones who know”) word “archon”—their equivalent term for wetiko—means “ruler.” The inner psychic pattern of how the archons infiltrate and take control of the individual human psyche is reflected and replicated in the way outer political movements and their leaders attempt to seize power in the greater body politic of nations as well as the world as a whole.
Once our mind is sufficiently “programmed” by the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko, we become more like automatons and zombies than creatively alive human beings. This is why it is so profoundly important for us to get in touch with our inner voice and express ourselves creatively, as doing so dissolves the pernicious effects of the disease. If we don’t creatively and constructively express the energy informing and giving shape to the complex, however, this same energy that could fuel our liberation, as if assuming its programmed role, continues to destroy us.
In a psychic coup d’état, the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko can usurp and supplant the person, who becomes its puppet and marionette. The person so possessed, unaware of their depraved circumstance in the slightest, becomes a marionette on a string, what Jung calls “the devil’s marionette.” At the core of every addiction is a darker energy that wants to possess the person; it craves their very life. It is as if there is an evil spirit—the very archetype of evil—at the root of every addiction. The prime directive of the addiction is to perpetuate itself at every cost. Unless interrupted and overcome, the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko ultimately destroys its host, as well as itself; it is a living death sentence.
Beyond taking over an individual’s mind, the macro-version of the Addiction-Shadow-Complex/wetiko can operate through and possess a group, a nation, or even, to varying degrees, our entire species. Along these lines, Jung writes, “since the world began, mankind has been possessed.” The human species certainly appears to be possessed by something destructive; wetiko is, after all, a “collective psychosis.”
Oftentimes it’s only when the addict hits rock bottom and realizes that they, as a human ego, are helpless and dependent upon a “higher power” that the recovery process starts in earnest. In a letter to Bill W. (the founder of alcoholics anonymous), Jung, though talking about alcoholism, could just as well be talking about any addiction, when he writes, “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”
Our craving for the addictive substance or behavior is a lower-level thirst for the real thing—i.e., our spiritual wholeness—what Schoen calls “a misplaced worship on the altar of a false God.” In trying to find a substitute for a living spiritual experience of fulfillment, the addicted person, in obsessively trying to recreate and repeat the original experience, only winds up perverting it. In his letter, Jung continues, “You see ‘alcohol’ in Latin is spiritus, and you use the same word [“spirits”] for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison.” The implication is that hidden encoded within the addictive process is potentially either an experience of living spirit or its opposite: a deadening experience that is toxic to our living spirit.
Jung concludes his letter to Bill W. with the words, “The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum [spirit against spirit].” Due to the archetypal spirit informing the personal process of addiction, we need a transpersonal (beyond the personal) spirit with which to treat it – whether we call this an experience of the Self, a higher power, spirit, God or whatever. Accessing this transpersonal source is paradoxical, in that it connects us with something beyond our limited sense of self, while at the same time connecting us with ourselves.
Addiction can be likened to a spell that we have conjured on ourselves that, if left to its own devices, will bind us—suffocating us in a cocoon of our own making—taking us down to God knows where. Jung concludes, “We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the life of the spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves. It is the only way in which to break the spell that binds us.” To rediscover the life of the spirit involves offering our ego in service to something greater than ourselves – what Jung would call relativizing the ego in the service to the Self. This can potentially be a true, life-transforming psycho-spiritual conversion experience, in which we continually cultivate an on-going, ever-evolving relationship with spirit, which leads to, and is ultimately inseparable from the Self. After all is said and done, however, we are the ones who ultimately get to choose which master we serve.
About the Author
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality.
Among his books are The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (SelectBooks, May 2018) and Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013).
He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over 35 years. He was the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years.
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections.
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