Ever-Present Origin

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* Book: Jean Gebser. The Ever-Present Origin.


"Gebser identified five structures of consciousness (archaic, magic, mythical, mental-rational, and integralarational) and showed that mutation of the currently dominant mental-rational structure into the last, “fifth structure” gathered momentum at the turn of the last century." [1]

Contextual Quote

"The attained Integral structure of consciousness is a recapitulation and intensification of all other structures, which allows Origin to be approached — touched and even embraced."

- Cynthia Bourgeault [2]



"Jean Gebser was a German-born poet, philosopher and linguist most well known in the English-speaking world for The Ever-Present Origin, first published in 1949. A weighty tome, EPO spans the history of human consciousness –describing a series of trials and tribulations, followed by transformations, that have marked the human journey. Following a “lightning-like” flash of inspiration in the winter of 1932/1933, Gebser sought to understand what he perceived as a radical shift in Western society, exhibited in the poetic expressions of Rilke and other poets of his time. He began a study, starting with Rilke and Spain and culminating – twenty years later – in the first edition of The Ever-Present Origin. From transformations of language, to new expressions of poetry, to scientific discoveries, it was Gebser’s central thesis that a potent “leap” in thinking was happening in the 20th century. This new mode of thought would be a holistic-centered, or integral one; an answer to the type of thinking responsible for economic and industrial crisis, two World Wars, and what many today consider a dire, global ecological crisis." (https://www.metapsychosis.com/books/the-ever-present-origin/)

2. Jan Krikke:

"In 1961, Jean Gebser, a German interdisciplinary philosopher, published The Ever-Present Origin, one of the most ambitious studies of consciousness ever undertaken. Gebser reached back deep into human history and claimed to have identified five stages or “structures” of consciousness: archaic (pre-history and pre-animist), magic, mythical, mental, and integral structure. Each of these structures contains the “origin” (ostensibly the source of Creation as well as consciousness) in latent form. After five “mutations,” consciousness reaches its highest level, the Integral Structure.

Gebser is not specific about historical dates or geographical areas in which the first three structures developed. They existed throughout the world in a similar form. But he situates the manifestations of the first emergence of the Mental Structure in Europe. He arrives at this conclusion by associating the five structures of consciousness to the development of (linear) perspective. In the 16th century, Renaissance artists invented the vanishing point, enabling them to depict the illusion of three-dimensional space on the two-dimensions picture plane.

Gebser associated the development of linear perspective with the emerging awareness of space, a feature of the mental structure. He retroactively designated the preceding structures of consciousness as pre-perspectival and unperspectival.

He writes:

“Scarcely five hundred years ago, during the Renaissance, an unmistakable reorganization of our consciousness occurred: the discovery of perspective which opened up the three-dimensionality of space. This discovery is so closely linked with the entire intellectual attitude of the modern epoch that we have felt obliged to call this age the age of perspectivity and characterize the age immediately preceding it as the ‘unperspectival’ age.”


3. Ulrich J Mohrhoff

"Ursprung und Gegenwart is the magnum opus of cultural historian and evolutionary philosopher Jean Gebser. Its two parts were first published in 1949 and 1953, respectively. As early as 1951, the Bollingen Foundation  contemplated the feasibility of an English-language version. In his eight-page review, the distinguished philosopher of history and author of studies of the evolution of human consciousness Erich Kahler (Man the Measure, 1943; The Tower and the Abyss, 1957) encouraged publication, calling the book “a very important, indeed in some respects pioneering piece of work,” “vastly, solidly, and subtly documented by a wealth of anthropological, mythological, linguistic, artistic, philosophical, and scientific material which is shown in its multifold and striking interrelationship.” Gebser’s study, he wrote “treads new paths, opens new vistas” and is “brilliantly written, [introducing] many valuable new terms and distinctions [and showing] that scholarly precision and faithfulness to given data are compatible with a broad, imaginative, and spiritual outlook.” Despite this warmly appreciative and incisive estimation, the first complete English translation was undertaken only in 1975, by Professors Noel Barstad (Modern Languages) and Algis Mickunas (Philosophy) at the University of Ohio. In 1977, after discussions with the author’s widow, Professor Barstad undertook a complete retranslation and is responsible for the English version in its present form. The Ever-Present Origin  was eventually published in 1985 by Ohio University Press."



Michel Bauwens:

The P2P Foundation's founding was originally a left-integral impulse, i.e. an attempt to renew the emancipatory tradition for the networked age, inspired to a certain degree by integral theories and thinking. One of our sources was Jean Gebser and his history of forms of human consciousness, and their successive mutations that also corresponds to types of civilizations. (Peter Pogany has worked on a synthesis between thermodynamic realities, socio-technical infrastructures of human civilizations, and the dominant forms of consciousness that accompany them.)

It's not enough to understand the evolution of socio-economic structures, we must also understand the cultural intersubjective and subjective mentalities that co-evolve with them. This is 'the' book, to understand the evolution of consciousness, in its archaic, magic, mythological and rational forms. Gebser sees how each mode of apprehending the world, has its generative phase, but also its 'deficient' or degenerative phase. The rational mode of consciousness becomes deficient when calculations dominate everything, and the whole can no longer be seen. Civilizational changes are also 'mutations of consciousness'.

Cynthia Bourgeault on the Meaning of Origin in Jean Gebser's Work

Cynthia Bourgeault:

"Gebser names his book The Ever Present Origin, and Origin is indeed the center point around which everything else in his in his magisterial teaching revolves. But his vision of Origin is unique, to say the least, and highly elusive to our habitual perspectival modes of thinking. It comes closer to my own notion of “chiastic epicenter” as I unpack it in Eye of the Heart rather than to its usual mental/rational placement as the beginning point on a horizontal timeline (or even as what lies just “behind” that beginning point).

The first and most important thing to keep in mind about Origin-according-to-Jean-Gebser is that it does not mean “in the beginning.” In Gebser’s native German the word for origin is Ursprung, which literally means “sprung forth.” The concept is verb-based, not noun-based; it designates not a primordial state, but a primordial action. It is not “cosmic inflation” (the current scientific buzzword for the universal steady state apart from local irruptions into physical manifestation), the zero point field, or “ground luminosity.” These are all terms with which it would otherwise have strong resonance, but the feeling tone is off. As Raimon Panikkar puts it in Christophany:

I am one with the Source insofar as I, too, act like a source, by making all I have received flow again (pg.116).

Source is as source does.

Heads up, however: It is not even “The Big Bang,” because it did not happen just once, in a single cataclysmic cosmic event. The essence of Gebser’s notion of Origin is not even that it has sprung forth but that it springs forth—into time, over and over again and now at an accelerating pace announcing the dawn of a new, fourth, age in human civilization. Origin is not to be found at the headwaters of “the river of time” but at every point along its course. Again and again it irrupts into time, breaks into that illusion of flowing linearity with its direct immediacy and newness. It flows to us not from the past, but from “the future” (i.e., that which is not yet manifest in time), jostling everything out of its linear entropy into a new intensification of the present moment.

It is terribly important to get this fundamental orientation right: otherwise you will be rowing backwards. You cannot find Origin by emulating earlier spiritual cultures (the mistake made by Traditionalism). Nor can you find it by flinging your heart wide open to “the future” understood as the next stop on the temporal subway line (the mistake made by Teilhard in his goofier moments and by many of the neo-Teilhardians following in his footsteps). If it is to be found anywhere, it is to be found here and now, standing right in the crosshairs of “the intersection of the timeless with time.”

It is true that this universally emerging fifth structure of consciousness (which Gebser names the Integral) bears the stigmata of Origin in a particularly intense way— perhaps more so than any of the previous structures. But this is not because it is “higher” on an evolutionary hierarchy of consciousness, but because it is deeper and sturdier in its capaciousness. A new dimension has awakened in the field of conscious perceptivity: no longer the illusion of depth created by that perspectival sleight-of-hand, but an authentic “fourth dimension” of perspectivity that allows one to see “in, through, and around” all the surfaces of this world, one’s true “perspectival horizon point” now located squarely in the bullseye of what Gebser calls originary presence. Finally one moves off of the canvas, out of flatland, into a truly global capacity to “hold all things in unity” without muddying their colors or their distinctive voices. It is not so much a new structure of consciousness, as a new candlepower of consciousness."


Cynthia Bourgeault on Understanding the Difference Between Ken Wilber's Developmental Stages and Jean Gebser's Unfolding Structures of Consciousness

Cynthia Bourgeault:

"If you’ve cut your teeth on the Ken Wilber roadmaps, the Gebser terrain will at first look reassuringly familiar. The familiar levels of consciousness are all right there, even designated by their familiar names: the archaic, magic, mythic, mental, and integral. Nor is this surprising, since Wilber explicitly acknowledges Gebser as the primary source of his model.

There is one crucial difference, however. In Wilber, these are stages of consciousness. In Gebser, they are STRUCTURES of consciousness.

Perhaps the significance of this nuance escapes you (it certainly escaped me initially). But on this nuance, actually, all else turns.

Stages EVOLVE. They are like steps on a ladder, building sequentially one upon the other in a journey that leads onward and upward. >< Structures UNFOLD. They are like sections of a jigsaw puzzle or rooms in an art museum, gradually filling in to reveal the big picture (which already implicitly exists).

This means that stages are essentially developmental. The earlier stage is folded into the next, in the process losing much of its distinctive character. The earlier stage lays the groundwork for what emerges next.

The inverse way of stating this is that the earlier stage represents a more immature expression of what is to follow.

It is not so in the world of unfolding. As you wander through an art museum, each room retains its essential character and wholeness; it weaves its own magic and adds its own distinctive fragrance to the mix. There are the medieval iconographers, the ornate baroque sculptures, surrealists, impressionists, cubists, each one of them retaining their own identity—“unconfused, immutable, undivided” (in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, describing the two natures of Christ). While these artistic eras did emerge at specific points in historical time, they do not replace one another or cancel out each other’s unique identity. Rather, they complement and deepen one another, like interwoven threads in an unfolding tapestry. And at certain times a certain room will speak to you more than the others. The cubists may be further along on the evolutionary timeline, but today it is the medieval icons that are calling to you.

Even at best it’s not easy to grasp the difference between developing and unfolding. The difficulty is further compounded, however, by the pronounced psychological bent of the models we’re more used to (Wilber’s, and following in his footsteps, Thomas Keating), which draw an explicit correlation between structures of consciousness and stages of childhood development. Thus, the “magic” structure corresponds to the consciousness of a toddler, “mythic” to a child, and “mental” to an emerging young adult. Viewed through this lens, the implication becomes well-nigh inescapable that these earlier stages are also “lower”—i.e., immature, more primitive—expressions of full adult consciousness. They are developmental phases to be passed through— “transcended and included,” perhaps— but certainly not lingered in. As Jeremy Johnson comments, Wilber’s roadmap, brilliant though it may be:

- … still retains a perspectival linearity that reduces the previous structures (the magic and mythic especially) to a state of mere infantilism…[His] developmental solution necessitates a strictly linear view of consciousness emergence, saving the transpersonal for the higher stages while still reducing the so-called “lower” stages to a childlike fantasy rather than a true and now lost mode of participation.” (pg. 79)

“As it stands,” Johnson adds, “this perspectival synthesis is incompatible with Gebser’s thinking.”

And you can imagine where things might be headed when this undetected linear bias starts to get projected out on whole groups of people deemed to be at a “lower” evolutionary level.

To enter the world of Gebser, the first and most important shift required is to recognize that we are indeed talking about structures of consciousness, not stages. Forget “onward and upward.” Each of these five structures is indeed an authentic mode of participation in the world,” and if they are not, perhaps, fully equal partners, they are at least fully entitled partners. Each is as qualitatively real as the other, and each adds its particular strengths and giftednesses to the whole. They are not so much steps on a ladder as planets in orbit around the sun, which is their central point of reference, the seat of their original and continuously in-breaking arising. Gebser calls this sun “The Ever-Present Origin.” I will have much more to say about it in subsequent posts.

The muting or repression of any of these structures leads to an impoverishment of the whole; this is true both individually and across the broad sweep of cultural history. While these structures may emerge into manifestation at certain points along a historical timeline, they are not created by that timeline nor determined by events preceding them in the sequence. Their point of reference is the Origin, which is outside of linear time altogether and intersects with the linear timeline by a completely different set of ordering principles. They are, one might say, timeless fractals of the whole, each bearing the living water of that original fontal outpouring in their own unique pail. They are ever-present and ever-available “at the depths,” even those that have not yet emerged into full conscious articulation on the linear timeline.

The “final” structure, then— the true Integral in Gebser’s worldmap—may in fact be not so much a new structure itself as a capacity to hold all the other structures simultaneously, in what Teilhard de Chardin once famously called “a paroxysm of harmonized complexity.” It is not so much a new window on the world as the capacity to see from a deeper dimension which transcends both linear and dialectical thinking and can deeply, feelingfully encompass both jagged particularity and the unitive oneness flowing through it, holding all things in relationship to their source."


Discussion 2

Jean Gebser on Sri Aurobindo

Ulrich J Mohrhoff:

"In the Preface to the second edition (1966) of Ursprung und Gegenwart, reproduced in part in the English translation, Gebser cites the following reasons for the addition of new material to the text:

- "The additions have been necessary in the light of many ominous as well as encouraging events since publication of the first edition. The ominous aspects are conceivably outweighed and counterbalanced by insights and achievements which, by virtue of their spiritual potency, cannot remain without effect. Among these achievements, the writings of Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin are pre-eminent. . . . Both develop in their own way the conception of a newly emergent consciousness which Sri Aurobindo has designated as the “supramental.” We defined it in turn as the “aperspectival (arational-integral)” consciousness to which we first referred in Rilke and Spain (1940) and later in our Transformation of the Occident (1943). It remains the principal concern of the present work to elucidate the possibility as well as the emergence of this new consciousness, and to describe its uniqueness. . . .

The reader will have to judge for himself in what respects our discussion parallels or diverges from those of the authors mentioned, the dissimilarities being occasioned by the differing points of departure. Although both authors have a human-universal orientation, Sri Aurobindo — integrating Western thought — proceeds from a reformed Hindu perspective, Teilhard de Chardin from a Catholic position, whereas the present work is written from a general and Occidental standpoint. But this does not preclude the one exposition from not merely supporting and complementing, but also corroborating the others. (xxix)

In a lecture published in 1970, Gebser made the following statement:

- It should be kept in mind: my conception of the emerging of a new consciousness, which I realized in winter 1932/33 in a flashlike intuition and started describing since 1939, resembles to a large extent the world conception of Sri Aurobindo, that was at that time unknown to me. Mine is different from his insofar, as it is directed only to the Western world and does not have the depth and the gravidity of origin of the genially represented conception of Sri Aurobindo. An explanation for this apparent phenomenon may be seen in the suggestion, that I was included in some manner within the strong field of force as radiated by Sri Aurobindo."


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