The term ‘avatar’ is probably better known in Western popular culture as the title of James Cameron’s 2009 epic science fiction action film. Set in the midst of the 22nd century a genetically engineered body is controlled by the mind of a remotely located human (‘dream walker’) and used to interact with a blue-skinned humanoid species living on Pandora, a verdant habitable moon, in the Alpha Centauri star system.
In Hinduism an avatar is the manifestation of a deity, notably Vishnu, in human, superhuman or animal form. However, it can also be a visible manifestation or embodiment of an abstract concept or archetype.
The formation of the self is an archetype or image that is created by a combination of the unconscious and conscious parts of an individual. The shadow only exists in the unconscious parts of an individual. It contains hidden traits present in all of us such as desires, shortcomings, wildness and chaos that we may unknowingly project onto another. As well as being the root of creativity, the shadow may form a reservoir for human darkness such as the sex and life instincts. The shadow may manifest itself in dreams or visions and can take shape in a variety of dark monsters, demons or exotic figures.
Young children can be extremely imaginative, often engaging in imaginative play. They may even become fearful of imaginary creatures or situations they create, such that they may struggle to differentiate between fantasy and reality. To them dark monsters and demons are real. Typical fears are the dark, the under-bed or closet monster, Halloween masks and television fantasy figures such as the Witch of Narnia.
Some adults may also possess fantasy prone personalities. This may commonly be described as an overactive imagination, or living in a dream world. Famous fantasists include Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and even Albert Einstein. However, an individual with this trait may also have difficulty differentiating between reality and fantasy and may create irrational fears in the same way as young children. Schizophrenia sufferers are often brilliant, intuitive people who become tormented by the demons created within their own ‘shadow’. Schizophrenics sometimes seem to connect with energies in the collective unconscious, which may take form in unwanted ways such as the hearing of voices or hallucinations, which to them are very real.
Psychotherapy may involve working with mythological or religious themes to embrace the shadow. Experiences and imagery can be used to reintegrate the dissociated fragments of the mind in a form of guided visualization to help regain a sense of focus and personal identity.
A team at King’s College London are researching the use of avatars to help mentally ill patients. In the case of schizophrenics the treatment revolves around the idea that if a patient can actually see the person responsible for the voices he can engage in dialogue with and hence gain some control over the illusions. The software originally developed for the gaming industry is used to build 3D models of the patients’ tormentors. The face generating technology is akin to that used in police photo-fit procedure, the graphics were pioneered in the early avatar computer game “Doom” and the voice software is taken from cartoon creation. Early trials have shown significant improvement in patients’ conditions with a reduced number and frequency of episodes.
As well as the personal shadow there is also a ‘shadow of society’ formed from values within society’s neglected and repressed collective. It may well be the case that these combined dark fears and creative energies are responsible for the creation of mythical demons in very early cultures. Through dreams and visions of dark or exotic creatures they believed were real these first civilizations created, feared and worshipped spirits, mythological creatures, demons and deities they believed lived in springs, woods, the sea or even the sky above. These immature cultures created archetypes from their ‘shadow of society’ in the same way ‘the closet monster’ manifests in the imagination of a young child. Then they formed avatars from wood, clay or stone and worshipped them. In our reality they were only idols, but to them they were gods. They were deceived by ‘the shadow’ into worshipping these false gods. This asks the question did God create man and the devil, or did men create all their gods and demons?
The strongest argument against the existence of a God is the fact that no proof he exists has ever been found. His existence is something many people are taught to believe in from early childhood. As children we accept this without question, kind of like the closet monster, yet in adulthood we look for some element of proof. The lack of proof makes us question His very existence and our childhood beliefs.
Even if God created the cosmos it is questionable whether He created man. Evolution suggests that humans evolved from the same ancestor as several other species. Darwin, a co-founder of the theory, felt that the ultimate cruelty in nature—a parasitic wasp larva eating its host from the inside out—was evidence that God does not exist. Surely nothing could design a world so cruel?
Early humans had little understanding of the universe around them and their fears of natural occurrences such as thunder and lightening made them invent gods to explain these phenomena. As humans learned and understood more, the many gods were replaced by the One, all knowing, all powerful God, to explain the creation of the earth and cosmos. In a world of cruelty where one animal’s continued existence sometimes depends on killing another—a world of goodness and evil—religion is a way humans can be manipulated to live “good” lives. (The Ten Commandments may perhaps be as relevant to today’s society as a guide to morality as they were in early culture.) One idea would be to invent God and His opponent the devil. Lead a good life and you will be rewarded by God in heaven, live an evil life and the devil will torment you in hell.
There are many anomalies in the Bible, such as the earth and everything in it were created in just six days, and the story of Adam and Eve, that science has now replaced. A large percentage of the human race now do not believe in the existence of a God, claiming that as the reason for human existence and the development of human consciousness is unknown, the invention of a God is an easy option.
The other side of the coin is that humans will nearly always try to create things in an image, or way, they can understand. They try to understand God, but He is beyond the limits of comprehension and it is essentially this fact that actually makes Him God. God is other worldly, yet may still be closer to us than the air that we breathe. He is omnipresent. He exists in everyone and everything yet is not limited by matter, time, space, energy or anything else. You might say there exists nothing else but God and that’s how close He really is to us. He fills and permeates us, and we (and the rest of creation) do not exist apart from Him.
Although our senses may trick us into believing the universe is a chaotic system of innumerable unconnected events it is actually all part of God’s indivisible unity— He is actually a single unified reality. We come from His oneness and shall return to it.
What was there before the first creation cannot be defined by anything that exists, because it was not brought forth into existence. It is not a being, but being itself. Clearly the creator is the source of all existence, but though we may not see His direct influence in our everyday world we can reach His consciousness, not without, but within, through meditation and prayer.
Before creation our souls were once in a state of infinite unity and blessing with the Creator. However, we shattered into our own consciousness so that we can make our own journey through the world He created. Through our actions we may learn His divine will and earn His blessings. The idea being that the ultimate pleasure is obtained from achieving these aims by our own endeavors, especially when the road has been very difficult. According to the scriptures, the most powerful aid in this journey is to persist in love— a message the Christ was sent to teach us.
However, the shadow is a notoriously difficult adversary. You might say he was there in the background in the Garden of Eden. He was ever active in the holocaust, and he even lurks and lures within. As a wise Jedi master once said, ‘”Fear brings anger, anger brings hatred, and hatred brings suffering.” Suffering is the way of the ‘shadow’. So if you don’t want to be consumed by the dark side and to help the health of the ‘self’ and that of ‘society,’ beware.
Joe recently helped develop the British Woodlands food webs educational simulation for Newbyte and is donating his share of The Last Tiger (available on Amazon kindle) children’s fantasy novel profits to the Animals on the Edge conservation project.
Learn how to create your own archetype to help heal schizophrenia: “Psychology, Art and African Voodoo.”
Are we avatars? – If he called them gods to whom the word of God came– and scripture cannot be broken.