It is tempting to see, in this craving for the prolongation of personal individuality, the consequence of a new sharpening of man’s awareness of his own individuality. The primitive mind seems to live in a continuous state of awareness of the minds of the other members of the clan, and a hurt to one member is instantly perceived as a hurt to all. But at some stage in social evolution, men come to see their own independence from the group, their freedom to act as they wish, regardless of custom and the desires of others. It is a state of affairs which not only creates problems for society; it also creates problems for the individual, who pays for his new autonomy with a sense of isolation and abandonment. (127) His first reaction to this may be to engage in ceremonies involving others, group rituals, so as to strengthen and renew his sense of community: and perhaps he also assuages his loneliness by plunging into sensual excesses, numbing the unconscious loneliness as a man numbs his sorrow by drinking, and closing his mind to the terrors of annihilating death, by eating, drinking and wenching. But when the rumour reaches him that perhaps death is but the door to a new life, then how ardently must he perform whatever actions are necessary to ensure his escape from this loneliness into a future existence in which he will be embraced by God’s love and assured of the company of the blest!
The guarantee of the reality of this future existence was the vouchsafing of a genuine experience of unity with all life in the present. And since the initiate observed that gross and sensual men do not ordinarily attain to this experience, he concluded, no doubt with reason, that asceticism is the better course. Hence we find eroticism giving place to asceticism. But since the majority of men cannot, or will not, attain to this experience, we also find a growing popularity for the mother religions, and the development of their ritual in ever more sensual forms.
As social units grow larger, and society more disorganised, we may suppose this sense of isolation to become inflamed, and in some such way we can account for the Roman senate’s deliberate import of the mother religions into Rome in the two centuries before Christ. The Jews, it is true, kept clear of the erotic solution — which they could not have admitted without sacrificing their whole religion — though it would seem that they had some trouble in preventing Jews seceding to the other religion of their Canaanite neighbours. But by the second century B.C. we find them also evolving ascetic sects, such as the Essenes and, later, that celibate group of which John the Baptist was leader.
Man seems, for the first time, to have begun to secrete a barrier of partition both between the rational and intellectual part of his mind, and between the rational and emotional. As he becomes more and more able to use his reason, he becomes more and more obtuse about his emotional drives and attitudes, which have now become unconscious. They emerge to the extent that they continue to affect his behaviour, but he no longer understands why he is impelled to certain actions, and sometimes he is even blind to the very fact that his actions tend to a particular direction. This process has been called the raising of the limen (threshold) and represents a shutting off or denying of the irrational. To treat the irrational as caused by gods (whose motives are presumably rational in their own eyes) is a way of dealing with these irrational forces and making them less alarming. As the Greeks turned to euhemerism, this solution failed, and the alternative which offered was to deny their existence, the alternative of rationalists everywhere. Projection was replaced by repression.