In a small quiet nook of Middle Earth called the Shire there lived a short stocky race of beings known as hobbits. Hobbits were simple folk, their main interests being each other and their non-complicated lives. By nature, they did not move about much, tending to live out their lives in much the same place as they were born.
It was rare for a hobbit to journey outside the Shire – the larger world was considered too foreign to be worthy of any real attention. Instead, hobbits preferred to keep to themselves. Dealing with the larger world was considered bothersome and complications were to be avoided wherever possible. In the Shire the hobbits enjoyed a quiet and peaceful life. The Lord of the Rings begins with the greenery of the Shire and the everyday life of the hobbits. The hobbits are in no way unusual. In most respects they mirror our own ordinary existence. Like the hobbits we also live out our lives within a small circle, remaining relatively free from the wider issues present within the world. Rarely do we concern ourselves with society at large. As with the hobbits our main concerns are our lives, homes, and families.
This is a starting point which is common to us all, a place at which we may all be found. Metaphorically speaking, we are these hobbits, and the Shire is our home. Having gathered us in, The Lord of the Rings is a mythic account of what is now unfolding within everyone's life. In one way or another, the adventure of the Ring lies before each of us.
Now there was a growing unease. The roads heading west of the Shire had been busier than usual and rumours of strange things happening in the world had begun to filter in. Many seemed to be fleeing from great peril in the east. As they passed, they whispered of the enemy and of the land of Mordor. Some great evil was afoot.
The lives of these hobbits are no longer so simple. No more can they live a life separate from the larger world or in ignorance of their distant neighbours. With the growing realisation that we inhabit a small planet, that once appeared large, it is quickly apparent that The Lord of the Rings is the story of our own time.
Just as the Shire's peace has come under immediate threat from the dark and destructive forces of Mordor, our own lives are now complicated by a broader set of issues collectively termed the global crisis. On the 18th of November 1992 the World Scientists Warning to Humanity was released. This document, addressed to us all, and signed by over sixteen hundred scientists from around the world (including half of all Nobel Prize winners), began as follows:
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage upon the environment and critical resources…. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.1
Today the pace of life continues to accelerate in a direction which is not always positive. If you listen to the ‘strange things you hear these days’ then you are bound to hear news of such issues as the global warming and the greenhouse effect, extreme weather patterns, the rapid extinction of various species of wildlife, the breakdown of ecosystems, the decimation of forests and the build-up of toxins within the food chain. These are all new issues. Never before, in the history of civilisation, have we been faced with such a broad conglomeration of problems now described as the Global Crisis.
“Strange things you do hear these days,” commented the young gardener Sam.
“Ah”, scoffed Ted, “you do if you listen.”
In our story, the younger Sam is concerned by the strange talk, whereas the older Ted takes no interest. Here we meet the first juncture in the journey of the Ring. Does one listen or not? Should one be concerned?
While it might seem obvious that we must concern ourselves with today’s problems, rarely do we take up the challenge in any real way. Most of us don’t listen! Instead, we prefer to remain ignorant, seeking to continue in a manner free from broader worries and responsibilities.
This maintenance of ignorance is the first danger. As the Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, explains, not becoming conscious, when one has the possibility for doing so, is the worst possible sin. For there is a greater psychic energy waiting to be integrated which, if left unlived, turns sour and destructive.
The global crisis asks that we develop a greater awareness of the intrinsic unity of all life. If we ignore this call for consciousness, then the world situation will continue to deteriorate to the point where is command our attention.
A global or greater consciousness lies before us whether we welcome the opportunity or not. This is the challenge of our age – the next step in our evolution as a species. In no way may it be avoided. Either we arrive at a point of global awareness through some disastrous global issue, or we willingly develop our capacity to honour the earth as a whole and steer our way clear of ecological catastrophe.
This is the way of Sam. As a gardener, he is forever devoted to the earth. Sam is open minded, responsible, and ready to act. In contrast, the sceptical Ted is characteristic of the old mindset. Ted’s apathy and indifference reflects the first major obstacle in dealing with the world’s problems.
Before anything real can be done there must first be that initial concern. Our challenge begins with taking an active interest in the fate of our planet. Once engaged, the urgency and immensity of the global crisis quickly becomes apparent.
No one knew exactly what was happening until the day Gandalf rode into the Shire with great urgency and immediately met with Frodo. The wise Gandalf brought Frodo dark news and confirmed his suspicions. Gandalf warned Frodo of an oncoming doom. The Dark Lord Sauron had risen again and taken his throne in Mordor. From the heart of Mordor, a black tide spewed forth and threatened to engulf the whole of Middle Earth.
Frodo was shocked to hear that the Shire was under threat. Never had the Shire been threatened by such strange and distant forces. Gandalf’s message was convincing but unwelcome news.
In the story Gandalf arrives and confirms Frodo’s suspicions. Gandalf is the figure of wisdom in our story. He is that part of us which simply knows. Prior to Gandalf’s arrival we remain confused and uncertain. Despite ample warning signs, the reality of the global crisis remains open to debate. Is the situation really that bad? Gandalf’s meeting with Frodo marks that point of no doubt – the global crisis is not an unfounded concept; the global crisis is real.
“The Enemy is fast becoming very strong”, explains Gandalf. “The Dark Lord’s plans are far from ripe, but they are ripening. You do not know the real peril yet, but you shall.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I”, said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Frodo laments the fact that this troubled chapter in the history of Middle Earth had chosen to play itself out within his own lifetime. Gandalf responds by stating that whilst we have no control over the fate which befalls us, we are obliged to respond to that fate.
We were destined to arrive at this critical juncture at some point in time. This time is now. We cannot seek an escape from our problems, just as there is no way of leaving this planet. Rather we are required to turn and face the challenge that the global crisis represents.
In accepting the fatefulness of the global crisis, we open to its spiritual dimension and the passage of transformation which it represents. The global crisis is an opportunity for consciousness. Jung was acutely aware of this secret symmetry between our worldly problems and our psychological development.
In 1956, two years after The Lord of the Rings was first published, Jung, wrote:
… a mood of universal destruction and world renewal has set its mark upon our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the Kairos - the right time - for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods', that is, of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity, which is certainly not of our own conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.2
We have now entered the new millennium and it is we who are the ‘coming generations’. As foretold, we are indeed faced with the prospect of our own self-destruction. Yet, as Jung also noted, our world situation is simply the outward expression of changes taking place deep within the psyche.
We now live at the end of an old, and the beginning of a new, era of consciousness. This ‘metamorphosis of the gods' is especially evident in the current transformation of our religious life, where the Christian ethic has begun to give way to a new era of both worldly and spiritual ideals.
The dawn of this new aeon, this new era of consciousness, coincides with the global crisis. They are two expressions of the one process. They both question our place and purpose within the whole of life, and they both call for a new morality regarding how we inhabit this world we live in. While the new aeon gently invites us to step forward into a greater awareness, the increasing intensity of the global crisis is the stern taskmaster who refuses to let us remain ignorant.
1 Kendall H.W. (2000) World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. In: Kendall H.W. (eds) A Distant Light. Masters of Modern Physics, Springer, New York, NY.
2 Jung, “The Undiscovered Self”, Civilisation in Transition, CW 10, par 585.