Encountering the Ape of Thoth

The Word, and the rational intellect, can be credited with creating human civilization. This is not only because reason is necessary to communicate important facts such as where a building’s foundation should be or how many swords are available for “N” number of warriors. The Word, in the Hermetic sense, creates a story that a civilization then embodies. This story determines what can and cannot be conceptualized until a new Word is uttered by a Magus to come.

Given the great power of the rational intellect, one would easily understand that it is crafting the world as well as describing it. This is generally not the case. The Word is in the hands of both Tahuti and his Ape. Tradition has it that the Magus is followed by the Ape of Thoth, who ensures that all his words will be misunderstood. The Word, once the pure expression of a Cosmic Mystery, has now become trapped in a thicket of its own ramifications and reifications. Like all contingent phenomena, it is ultimately impermanent and unsatisfactory.

Which brings me, as usual, to Ken Wilber. (Really this obsession is unhealthy. I should get help.) In his AQAL map, intellectual development is said to be “necessary but not sufficient” for spiritual development. This is, I feel, like most things which are spoken, both true and untrue. Wilber’s teleology demands that the monkey learn to speak before it can climb to the heights of the Non-dual.

But what if it learns to speak lies? Can it ultimately learn anything else?

One gets the feeling that it wouldn’t matter. The development of the cognitive faculty would, in itself, be the sole requirement. As the Cosmos is in process, every statement we make can be considered true, false, and meaningless, depending on what point in time we are discussing. The mind can be thought of as a great spoon, dipping again into a boiling soup of events, concepts, wars, famines, movie premiers, and pornographic ice cream wrappers. The spoonful it brings out of this chaos it calls “reality.” But it tends to go for the same kinds of food each time, since it has now defined that which it has not picked out before “not food.”

Even so, we must learn to use the spoon. To simply sit on the edge, trying to make sense of the swirling chaos, will not serve us. And we must learn to discriminate, since there are poisons in that stew as well as nourishment. Knowing it is all temporary, we can enjoy the meal without expecting it to be the same every time.

The Ape of Thoth is both our adversary and ally. His jokes are annoying, and he always makes us look like fools. But he also helps us by showing us that the universe doesn’t play by our rules. We only have a certain degree of control over anything, and the Ape is there to help us laugh when we try too hard.

Eventually, when we have learned how to work with the Ape, we can even begin to ignore those poisons we had to avoid. The mind is capable, if developed beyond mere analysis, of transmuting these poisons into wisdom. But it takes time, and we must pay our dues to the Ape before Tahuti will speak to us in plain english.

  1. Matt C. said:

    Just came across your blog – nice entry (I was researching the concept of Thoth’s Ape).

  2. Alex "Rota" said:

    It was said that we don’t have power over the universe, but isn’t the power of words and naming in some way an influence on the universe? I enjoyed the post, I found it thought provocative.

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