Three metamorphoses of the spirit

15 Oct 2008 |  for counsellors | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory

Counsellors sometimes utilise models of human development, and when working transpersonally can often use metaphor. This allegory from Nietzche combines both.

Nietzche's allegory for the three metamorphoses of the spirit can be found just after the prologue to Thus Spake Zarathrustra.

Nietzsche's work is important in Existentialism.  His image of the developed individual as a wheel rolling out of its own centre ("aus sich rollenden Rad") may also be equated with Rogers & Maslow's self-actualised individual.

Like most original works on philosophy, where the writer is struggling to express new ideas for which the words and concepts have not yet passed into the language and culture, this work is a difficult read. (If you want to read about the works of a philosopher, then it's usually much easier to first read later writers' works on the philosopher, written at a stage when the original philosopher's ideas have worked into the language and culture enough to be much more readily expressible.)

He outlines three stages of transformation.

The first may be equated with the development of Ken Wilber's Mental Ego consciousness, where the person is developing in response to the needs of society, and learns to experience the world in accordance with consensus reality.   In every society and culture, including our own, there is a very heavy conditioning to experience the world from a given perspective (Erich Fromm's The Sane Society is worth a read if you'd like to explore that more).  

From within that society, it is very difficult to be aware of it, as those societal aspects tend to feel more like background than figure (similar in some ways to a child experiencing their familial setting as the norm, until they are old enough to have experience of, and be able to compare it with, that of other families, or if they are otherwise removed from that setting). At this stage, society loads the person up, as Nietzche puts it, like a heavily laden camel - with a sense of duties and responsibilities that follow society's values rather than originating in the individual.  Some of these may be civilising influences, but others may not feed the spirit, and may reflect the pathologies of that particular society.

The second stage in Nietzche's parable, where the individual's transformation is characterised as being like a lion, is sometimes equated to that of the transition to Wilber's Centaur Stage. In Nietzche characterisation, the individual is like a lion whose task is to fight the dragon which has on every scale a "thou shalt", some of them more recent, some of them perhaps hundreds of years old.  These "thou shalts" are the duties, obligations and conditions of worth that we have been laden with in our life-development.  The task of the person is to fight and overcome the dragon of thou-shalts, and to become a person who is their own authority.

The condition of the person who has achieved this, Nietzsche characterises as that of a child - "innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game".  This is the person who has gone beyond consensus reality, and who is creating their own life and living more authentically, with a corresponding increase in spontaneity and autonomy.

Conditions for re-use | Images used in this blog.