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By Steve McDonald
A map for the Archaic Revival
This article appeared in Entheogenesis Australis (EGA) Journal 3 – 2011/2012 (December 2011)
In 1974, American professor of psychology Dr Clare W Graves wrote an article for The Futurist magazine titled Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap. Graves described an impending change in human consciousness that would be, in his words:
‘…the most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting transition the human race has faced to date. It is not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new “movement” in the symphony of human history.’
His claim wasn’t just speculation though, it was based on seven years of field research plus almost 20 years of data analysis. Unfortunately he died before publishing his research findings and therefore his work remains largely unknown. Graves’ theory was used as the basis for the book Spiral Dynamics (Beck & Cowan, 1996) and most of his original research papers were eventually published as The Never Ending Quest (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005).
Dr Graves’ findings provide a credible map for what philosopher and psychedelic pioneer Terence McKenna called The Archaic Revival. According to Graves, humanity is indeed making a momentous leap in consciousness, which is characterised in part by the re-emergence of archaic themes. One of these themes is tribalism; not a regression to ancient tribalism, but the emergence of one global tribe.
Graves described human development as ‘an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiralling process’ marked by progressive movement upwards through increasingly complex stages. This upward movement is
One of the special gifts
Dr Graves brought to the field of developmental psychology was his ability at pattern recognition. He discovered that the same change process and the same stages of development can be seen in the evolution of our species, from hunter-gatherer to the present day; in the development of an individual from infant to adult, and also in the development of social groups.
Stages of development
The initial data Graves gathered during the 1950s suggested the existence of seven stages of human development. However during the course of his study some of his subjects who displayed Stage 7 behaviour changed to a more complex way of being, an eighth stage, which was entirely unexpected. At the time, no other theory had more than seven stages and it was widely held that Stage 7 was the pinnacle of psychological maturity. Graves eventually concluded that human development is an open-ended process of adaptation, with more stages likely to emerge in the future. A map of the eight stages and their associated themes is shown at Figure 1 (below).
Looking at the map of stages from an individual’s perspective, we begin life at the Survival stage, where as a baby all our energy and attention is consumed simply doing what’s needed to survive. As we grow, we move into the Tribal stage, which explores family and extended family relationships and the associated customs and authority figures. The third, Egocentric stage takes us into an exploration of our personal power and identity, during which (as rebellious teenagers) we attempt to break away from the Tribal dynamics.
Note how each new stage is nested over the top of the previous stages (shown in Figure 1 as nested coloured shapes). Each stage adds a new coping capacity to our repertoire, but as life conditions demand, we can (and do) move down to operate from previous stages when appropriate. One example is our capacity to naturally switch from relatively complex behaviour in the workplace to less complex and more appropriate behaviour in a family situation.
With each new stage a new worldview emerges with its associated interests, motivations and preferences. Transition from one stage to the next represents a major or transformational change, which (for example) can sometimes result in a change of occupation or even life direction.
Progression up through the stages is not a given. It’s dependent upon our life conditions, which include our personal history (our conditioning) and the current challenges we face in life. Only if we’re challenged by new, more complex problems, and if the capacities of our current stage don’t measure up to the task, does the possibility of progress arise through our internal adaptation process.
As a simple example, moving from a quiet rural existence to a busy corporate job in the city brings an increase in complexity. This kind of change can activate our adaptation process, which takes place at a deep internal level beyond the conscious mind. Some people may not adapt though, despite the different life conditions. Graves concluded that we can become temporarily stuck, or even permanently closed off to the change process as a result of certain conditioning.
Many studies have shown that it’s not possible to skip over a stage of development; they must be navigated in sequence. Each new stage builds upon the previous one and as we move from one stage to the next there’s a natural tendency to reject the values of the previous stage, in favour of our new values.
Within the sequence of stages, as indicated in Figure 1 there is an alternating focus between themes of individuality (self-expression) and community (self-sacrifice).
Change between stages
The experience of growing from one stage to the next (see Figure 2) takes us from stability at the old stage, through a journey into stress and chaos where the old stage structure falls apart, then on to reorganisation at a new and more complex stage. You’ll notice there are two possible pathways shown, marked as evolutionary and revolutionary change. Revolutionary change involves a breakthrough and a quantum leap, whereas evolutionary change involves a much earlier response and consequently a smaller correction. Change between stages typically follows the revolutionary change path.
The green line in Figure 2 represents our background life conditions, trending upwards towards greater complexity. When we reach a point of stability and remain there, we eventually fall out of synch with our life conditions by default, due to their constant changing.
Just like the pattern of stage progression, this change pattern is also evident at all scales, from individual to group to the evolution of our species. You’ll notice how it resembles the rising and setting Sun. Many ancient cultures realised this analogy and used the Sun as a spiritual icon to represent the human journey. It can also represent the cycle of death and reincarnation.
This change pattern is the archetypal human experience. It’s what philosopher Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. The hero leaves his or her home (stability) as the result of some call that disrupts a comfortable lifestyle, commits to the journey and faces tests and trials (stress). At some point there is a major ordeal (chaos) and the hero undergoes a symbolic death and rebirth (crossing the barrier). Our hero emerges from the ordeal with a gift of some sort (renewal) and begins the journey home, where he or she is raised up on high (new stability) in recognition of their achievement.
Altered states and change
‘As a historical cultural phenomenon…anytime a transition in man has taken place there has always been a big upsurge in the use of drugs.’ Dr Clare W Graves, 1971.
The deliberate seeking of altered states of consciousness can be traced back to our earliest recorded history. Most, if not all cultures have some record of using sacred plants, meditation, sound or physical stress as a means to this end. The reasons are many and varied but include for initiation, healing, divination and the expansion of consciousness. Most often the practice was part of a spiritual tradition.
In Integral Psychology (Wilber, 2000) Ken Wilber explains that everyone, regardless of which stage of development they’re operating from, has daily access to the normal states of consciousness; namely the gross (waking), subtle (dreaming) and causal (deep sleep). In an altered state a person may briefly access, while still awake, the subtle and causal realms.
Altered states are often described as psychic or mystical and they can bring feelings or insights that are typical of the higher stages of development, as mapped by Graves. Wilber explains that personal growth to these higher stages involves, in part, the conversion of temporary altered state experiences into permanent realisations.
With regular mindful practice in an appropriate setting, the insights gained through altered states can accelerate our personal development. It’s no wonder that we’re naturally drawn to altered states, particularly during times of change.
Are we living at a special time?
Some sources suggest that 2012 marks a time of significant change. According to the ancient Mayan Calendar it heralds the end of a Long Count of 5,126 years and also the end of the Nine Underworlds cycle, which began with the creation of our universe (Calleman, 2004). In his Timewave Zero theory (T & D McKenna, 1975) Terence McKenna suggests 2012 will be a time of ‘maximized novelty’ (novelty meaning ‘a new or unfamiliar thing or experience’). While these ideas are open to interpretation, interestingly they have some correlations with Dr Graves’ research findings.
According to Graves, the most significant change ever seen in human consciousness occurs during the transition from Stage 6 to Stage 7, and by extension when a critical mass of people reach this transition our world will experience extraordinary change. Graves wasn’t trying to predict the future though, he was simply observing human nature. He once wrote:
‘I didn’t stand on the mountaintop of Sinai and get the word of Jehovah to develop this theory. This point of view came about in a very long series of studies.’
There is a correlation however between the themes of Graves’ human stages and the themes of some of the Mayan underworlds. There is also a similar pattern of time cycles in both the historical appearance of the underworlds and in the appearance of Graves’ stages, with each new underworld and stage being shorter in duration than the previous one.
While none of this provides conclusive evidence of impending change in 2012, by examining the characteristics of Graves’ higher stages we can get some idea of what our momentous leap in consciousness involves and how far off it might be. It’s important to remember that Graves found a few people who’d already transitioned to Stages 7 and 8 way back in the 1950s and he understood the reasons why.
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