15 Aug 2002
The "Dark Riders" of Social Change
a challenge for any Fellowship of the Ring
- / -
"I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth',
and indeed present aspects of it that can only be perceived in this mode."
(The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien, page 131)
Rings of power
Relationship between the rings
The "Dark Riders"
Nature of the "One Ring"
Fellowship of the Ring
Cycles: lost and found
The "One Ring" of cycles
Conversations with ourselves
In conclusion: varieties of ring
The movie Fellowship of the Ring has again given prominence
to the archetype of the "Dark Riders". In J R R Tolkien's novel, The
Lord of the Rings, these nine riders, "neither dead nor alive",
hunt for the "ring". For young people today -- encouraged by the movie's
promoters to join the Fellowship [more]
-- that ring might well be understood as providing the bearer with the most
repressive forms of control over social change and development.
This "One Ring" is described by Tolkien in the following
description of the 20 Rings of Power:
Three rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die.
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
This archetypal tale may be used to explore the modern dilemma of social change
and sustainable development -- and the emergence of viable alternatives to planetary
and psychosocial degradation. There is a strong case for relating the mythical
crisis for the world to the planetary crisis of today -- especially when the
former has captured the imagination more effectively. This exploration recognizes
that social policy needs to take account of the vehicles for meaning that capture
popular imagination -- whether or not that meanhing is given legitimacy by the
mainstream scientific or policy thinking which is itself faced with a crisis
of legitimacy through its apparently limited ability to respond to manifest
Rings of power
From a planetary perspective, the various rings may be understood as cyclic
sectoral processes vital to the sustainability of life. They might even be understood
as natural or psychosocial cycles that ensure the dynamics of life on the planet
-- or feedback loops in a systemic sense. The "One Ring" is a different
matter altogether. Clearly it is important that the other rings mesh together
functionally, rather than operating in systemic isolation from one another.
How this meshing takes place, how it is thought about, and what kind of mind-set
is brought to bear on how it should be controlled, are all questions which bear
The planet has benefitted from long centuries in which the "rings"
or cycles effectively self-organized into a larger whole, compensating for each
others' excesses and inadequacies at any period of time. This larger whole which
"bound" them could be understood as an emergent property -- perhaps
to be understood as a ring of higher dimensionality.
In the present period, each of the individual "rings" or cycles is
being subject to intense interference by man. In particular the meshing, or
interface, between the rings is becoming problematic. Deliberate efforts are
effectively being made to control certain of the cycles -- as is most evident
in the major monopolies or price fixing rings which control (or seek to control)
certain sectors of the economy and the provision of particular services. Other
efforts by vested interests are being made to control the weather, the water
supply, the food supply, the energy supply, the air supply (and its degree of
pollution), the supply of cultural products, the games people play, and the
supply of information. The quality of thinking and motivation in each case leaves
much to be desired. Tolkien's friend, C S Lewis, explored the ways in which
some groups seek to establish complete human control over nature, including
the face of the Earth and the human body itself (That Hideous Strength,
1945 [review; review]).
In the context of the tale, it was said that more rings were made but they
are of a lesser nature than the 20 Great Rings of Power. Gandalf suggests as
much when he explains their history: "In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were
made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds:
some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft
before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles - yet
to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they
were perilous." These "minor" rings can be usefully understood as
secondary cycles important in some way to sustaining psychosocial and environmental
Tolkien provides a revealing insight into the nature of the rings and their
powers: "The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing
of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of
what is desired or loved, or its semblance -- this is more or less an Elvish
motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor -- thus approaching
`magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally
they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron...such as rendering
invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible."
Such concern for slowing the passage of time and creating "islands of
timeless beauty" echoes oddly the current preoccupations with sustainable
development and protecting the beauties of the Earth and its ecosystems.
It is a mistake to imagine that the wise of earlier centuries were unable to
recognize phenomena such as cycles in nature and society, however they chose
to represent them for purposes of communication to their peers, their patrons
or to the population. Various devices are chosen for this purpose in modern
society. Rings were a good compromise for a culture nourished by myths. As an
intellectual creation, a ring indeed "enhanced the natural powers of a
possessor" -- as does any "model". Ironically, whilst they do
indeed make "things of the invisible world visible" as does any such
model of complex phenomena, they also render "invisible the material body",
in that the bearer treats the abstraction as a reality and in so doing becomes
an abstraction for the model with which he or she identifies. Rather than Tolkien's
"Ringwraiths" of yore, the world is faced with the "Modelwraiths"
Relationship between the rings
But the real challenge lies in how the different rings or cycles mesh together
to engender a larger whole of higher dimensionality. In terms of spherical geometry,
they are usefully understood as "great circles" of different orientation
that interlock together to engender a sphere or globe. This approach was explored
for the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) to cluster the initiatives and interlocking
strategic dilemmas relevant to Agenda 21 [more
Meshing with each of these "great circles" would be the different
secondary cycles. The "great circles" go around the sphere circumferentially,
whilst the secondary circles are effectively of lesser "diameter"
and lie on different parts of its surface meshing with particular great circles
and with one another. Constructors of geodesic domes are very familiar with
It is unfortunate that there is no systematic classification of environmental
and psychosocial cycles in order to explore these correspondences. However the
work done on feedback loops in global modelling goes a long way in this direction.
Also confusing is the form of information with respect to the metabolic pathways
made up of many cycles vital to cellular life that might well be similarly portrayed.
The current controversy about "globalization" might then usefully
be understood as being about the "One Ring to rule them all" -- namely
how the different rings are together to be controlled, and by whom. There is
a curious parallel between the amateur, colourful, "hobbit"-like,
often enchanting behaviour of the anti-globalization, communal "halflings"
(with whom many readily identify) and the powerful and often ugly bodies (directed
by dark-suited males) against whom they protest (and whom many love to hate).
In this current period it would indeed appear to be the case that the "hobbits"
are protecting something vital to humanity which the powerful seek to possess
and control for their own very particular ends.
The "Dark Riders"
In Tolkien's tale, the Nazgûl, or Dark Riders, were humans who have long
been corrupted by the power associated with possession of the major rings. They
have lost their essential humanity and been transformed into "Ringwraiths".
As such they are the servants of Sauron, the Dark Lord who seeks so assiduously
through them for the One Ring.
The question raised by this exploration is whether any social change initiative
in some way tends to attract the attention of "Dark Riders" of some
kind. The situation with regard to the major environmental cycles lends itself
to this conclusion as was suggested above. Monopolies and invisible price fixing
rings are being set in place worldwide to control and exploit access to water,
food and the like. Individual names may not be known but those acting for unknown
power mongers "behind the scenes" may well be at this time. Rightly
or wrongly, the "halflings" have their suspicions -- and have borne
witness to violence against their number for voicing them.
Perhaps of much greater concern are the "Dark Riders" who may be
associated with major social change initiatives on which many place so much
hope. These would include initiatives on: human rights, housing, refugees, education,
nuclear proliferation, family planning, health, dissemination of cultural products,
intellectual copyright, etc. The most challenging situations are those associated
with major UN Conferences (eg climate, human rights, sustainable development,
The "Dark Riders" might well be highly visible in some other guise,
but typically would act primarily "behind the scenes" through "structural
violence", deceit and treachery -- only using physical violence as a last
resort. In this sense they would indeed be "invisible" and might well
appear in some guise to be associated most closely with actively promoting the
initiatives -- only to undermine or vitiate them without revealing their role.
Indeed they would tend to be the first to express regret at the failure of any
Of greater concern is the possibility that the "Dark Riders" and
their minions would benefit from new generations of psychosocial and behavioural
technologies -- secret developments of behavioural modification and other research.
Such suspicions, frequently expressed by conspiracy theorists on the web, are
of course readily dismissed as fantasy -- as with the suspicion that they might
even be aliens.
Nature of the "One Ring"
Lord of the Rings: Tolkien presents the challenge of the One Ring in
terms of the necessity for its destruction to safeguard humanity and the planet.
The Fellowship of the Ring assembles to engage in a heroic mission to achieve
As noted earlier however, the One Ring may be indicative of how the cycles
necessary to sustain life on this planet interlock appropriately. Part of the
challenge may then lie in how this One Ring is to be understood -- as is evident
in the acrimonious debate amongst good people about "globalization".
The ring that the Fellowship seeks to destroy is the one understood to have
been "forged" by Sauron -- having tricked the elves into forging the
19 lesser rings that can be controlled by it. In the modern world it is academia
that perhaps best reflects the function of the elves -- and it is indeed academia
that has "forged" the conceptual models of the cycles vital to sustaining
life on the planet. It is through these models that control over the cyclic
phenomena is focused.
The forging of the ring designed to control them -- perhaps through some super
"global model" -- is another matter. Can the Club of Rome be seen
to have prepared the way for this through the early Limits to Growth
(1972) modelling exercises that resulted in the creation of the International
Institute for Applied Systems Analysis -- and prefigured the preoccupation with
sustainable development? For some conspiracy theorists, the Club (and related
bodies such as the Bilderberg Group, the Bohemian Club, and the Trilateral Commission)
are indeed highly suspect as contributors to any such plot [more]
-- as foreseen in C S Lewis' famous novel That Hideous Strength (1945).
But there is a strange symmetry to Tolkien's tale, for in many ways the Fellowship
of the Ring was itself forged as an alliance of disparate peoples to harmonize
the destabilizing forces of Middle Earth. It in some ways mirrors the One Ring.
The bonds of the Fellowship of the Ring are in fact tempered through the quest
to destroy the One Ring that brought the Fellowship together. In some respects
the Fellowship becomes the more appropriate form of the One Ring -- and exerts
its "control" in a more appropriate manner.
Ring of the Nibelungs: In Richard Wagner's opera, the story is based
on the succession of struggles over a single ring that gives great power. Like
that of Tolkien, it is "forged" out of gold by a problematic figure
in the early phase of the tale. Curiously, possession of the gold starts with
the Rhinemaidens playfully enjoying the alluvial gold in situ (Rheingold)
and passes through a sequence of successors -- each transfer influenced significantly
by a human value, including vices and ills (theft, deceit, betrayal, murder,
incest, etc), finally to be returned -- subtly empowered through exposure to
desire and flame -- to shimmer in the river with the Rhinemaidens at the end
of the cycle. At one stage, its nature as a "ring" is even forgotten,
and the focus shifts to the gold. In a parallel cycle, the potential of glory
and power passes through the hands of the Gods into the hands of Humans.
Donivan Bessinger (Possessing
the Ring: Wagner's Ring and human nature, 1996) thoughtfully explores
the relation between Wagner's ring cycle and the life-cycle of the psyche and
the triumph over ego domination -- reconciling the Self with the outer world
of daily experience in which problems of survival must be solved. He concludes:
We now are in the midst of a turbulent transition from a cold war to some
new type of world-order at the threshold of another millennium. If the biophilic
life-affirming aspect of the psyche is eventually to come into full ascendency,
we will need to find new ways to give expression to a sense of human spirituality
and oneness. If that can be so, the twilight of the gods will not be the twilight
before the darkness, but before a new dawn. It will not represent the extinguishing
of Psyche's gods, but their integration into wholeness of life.
According to his view:
Individually, we must learn to see that the good is not the so-called good
of malignant ego gratification; the good is homeostasis, integrating our inner
and outer polarities into a balance that brings the psyche into alignment
with the homeostatic order of creation. In other words, we must complete the
ring to "possess the ring."
It is that psychological circle of wholeness which gives each of us power
over our world. The struggle to obtain it is an heroic one, but surely the
effort is worthwhile. Possessing this ring confers great power indeed.
Journey to the West: Possibly the most intriguing "ring" features
in one of the principal classic tales of China -- that of the Journey to
the West written by Wu Cheng'en in the 16th century (and translated by Arthur
Waley, 1942). Otherwise known as The Monkey King, this is the tale of
Monkey as the mischievous protagonist who takes on the heavens and the gods
in a sequence of stories. The novel follows his adventures in search of wisdom
and the Sutra, the Buddhist holy book, as assistant to a monk. The tale
borrows its title and its premiss from a factual work of the same name written
in the 7th century.
The adapted tale is a comic fantasy spanning the entire mythological cosmos,
including Heaven and Hell, in which the monk acquires some very unlikely travelling
companions. Ironically, the most resourceful of these is Monkey -- with his
vast supernatural powers and a human body. The third, Pigsy, had been banished
to Earth from Heaven for violating a daughter of Yu Di, and had been reincarnated
as a monster with a man's body and a pig's face. The fourth, another fallen
celestial official, had taken the name of Brother Sand and supported himself
by waylaying and murdering travellers until offered the chance to redeem himself
by joining their quest.
Monkey neatly portrays the invasive, disruptive initiatives undertaken by many
powerful groups in modern society -- who are disparaging of constraints and
dismissive of consequences of which they often choose to be ignorant. As a symbol
of curiosity common to the West, he nicely parodies the irresponsibilty of science
The tale of the Monkey King is presented as one of a number of examples of
the individuation process identified by C G Jung as "the process by which
a person becomes an individual, that is, a separate indivisible unity or whole."
As such the dauntless and irreverent Monkey King -- a Trickster hero of truly
archetypal proportions is an inspiration for everything from classical Chinese
opera, to comic strips [more;
more], and to a wildly
popular TV series of the 1970's [more].
Monkey became so popular throughout China that he himself became an object of
veneration; images of him even appearing in temples.
After causing considerable upheaval in the heavens [more],
Monkey was imprisoned for his misdeeds. He was released through the intercession
of Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, only on condition that he fulfill his destiny
by accompanying the Buddhist monk Xuanzang to India to bring the Buddhist scriptures
back to China. To restrain his natural violence, the goddess put a band on his
head that tightened on command, instantly giving him a splitting headache. At
the end of his successful quest with companions (resembling some in the Fellowship
of the Ring), Monkey was left with only one concern: to be rid of the migraine-inducing
ring that Guan Yin had put around his head. When Xuanzang asked him gently if
it had troubled him recently, he raised his hand to his temples. Only then did
he realize that it had disappeared of its own accord along with the last traces
of his animal nature [more].
The "band" originally placed on Monkey's head shares attributes with
a "ring" in relation to power and control. Curiously both terms have
a collective significance. On the heroic quest Monkey is part of a band of companions,
just as Frodo is part of a ring forming the Fellowship. In its final transformation,
the band recalls the halo around the heads of the holy. In various religions,
East and West, halos are depicted as adorning circles of light denoting cosmic
understanding and enlightenment. Similarly the ring or circle is the most ancient
representation of the wholeness of the cosmos -- seen, for example, in the pi'i
discs of earliest Chinese art.
Lord of the Rings: The theme of shadow and darkness runs through any
ring process. The "Dark Riders" are necessarily "of the shadow".
Thus for Tolkien:
" And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring;
for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern
them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain
of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive
all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see
and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them." [more]
Ring of the Nibelungs: In the case of the Ring of the Nibelungs, according
to Donivan Bessinger, the shadow also figures through the Nibelung dwarfs of
the shadows, and in the chthonic realm of the underworld, Nibelheim, the home
of spiritual mists and of shadow. The considerable shadow energy of the psyche,
is seen in Alberich's evil reaction to rejection, in Wotan's awful betrayal
of Youth and Beauty (Freia) to build his castle; in his stripping Brünnhilde
of her immortality and his imprisoning her in the ring of fire in order to regain
the ring of power.
Shadow energy is also seen in the struggle between Siegfried and Mime, his
evil stepfather -- the orphaned Siegfried is raised by his shadow, Alberich's
brother! That same shadow energy also provides resistance to the reintegration
of the psyche. Siegfried had to slay a dragon, but he also had to struggle
with the Gibichungs. They defend the castle which guards access to the Rhine.
But there is also a paradox: The same shadow also provides the painful final
link by which the psyche is made whole. [more]
Journey to the West: In the case of Monkey, as an archetypal Trickster,
in jungian terms, his role is to hamper the hero's progress and to generally
make trouble. However in this case it is Monkey who becomes the hero, effectively
hampered by his own shadow. His companions, Pigsy and Brother Sand, also carry
Fellowship of the Ring
There is a curious symmetry between the Dark Riders and the Fellowship of the
Ring. Each is composed of nine members. The Dark Riders are unnamed. The Fellowship
consists of Frodo, assisted by: the wisdom of Gandalf; the loyalty of his friends
Sam, Merry and Pippin; the courage of Aragorn and Boromir; the precision of
Legolas; and the strength of Gimli. Outside the Fellowship, but assisting the
quest, are the elves Arwen, Galadriel and Elrond, whose knowledge of the Ring
brings to light the true danger and importance of their journey. The process
in which the Fellowship engages is described from a jungian perspective by Patrick
Grant [Tolkien: Archetype
and Word] as:
Within the quest, Frodo, at the beginning, is childlike, and must. endure
the terrors of monsters, dragons, and the underworld. Aragorn, his companion,
who equally undergoes such trials, is of strange and royal origins, protector
of a noble lineage, and a semi-divine figure with the magic power of healing.
Frodo and Aragorn represent different aspects of the hero--Frodo his childlikeness,
Aragorn his nobility and power, and each must support and learn from the other.
The Hobbit, for good reason, as we shall see, receives foremost attention,
and the story is in a special sense his. As it proceeds, Frodo puts off more
and more the childlike ways of the Shire, and assumes the lineaments of heroism,
acquiring, at the end, a truly numinous quality. Moreover, as his understanding
deepens, Frodo moves through a process equivalent to Jung's individuation,
which is charted by the main action of the book. He encounters the shadow
(Gollum), anima (Galadriel), and Old Wise Man (Gandalf). Each archetype has
a good and bad side, the good leading to understanding and fellowship, the
bad to death, isolation, and the loss of identity or Self. So Galadriel is
opposed by Shelob, the heroes by the Ringwraiths, and Gandalf by the evil
magician Saruman. Gollum is, by nature, ambivalent.
The Dark Riders are effectively the collective shadow of the Fellowship. This
points to the real challenge for sustainable development initiatives. It is
as much the problem of recognizing and dealing with the denied "internal",
shadowy dysfunctionalities of any Fellowship engaged in such a mission to "save
the world" as it is of seeking to blame "external" shadowy figures
in positions of power able to forestall it. This concern is explored by those
concerned with processes and types associated with the 9-fold enneagram (Anthony
Blake, 1996; International
In endeavouring to understand the operation of the "nine" in Tolkien's
tale, Donivan Bessinger provides a very helpful insight into the life-cycle
of the Ring of the Nibelungs from a jungian perspective. He focuses on the manner
and sequence by which the ring is possessed by the nine principal protagonists
-- in what might here be called Wagner's ring "Fellowship".
For Bessinger, possession of the "ring", following the story of the 4-part
opera, begins in the homeostatic self (with the Rhinemaidens). With life experience,
there is shadow development (through Alberich) which is followed by ego inflation
(through Wotan, Fasolt, Fafner) and heroic ego struggle (through Siegfried).
If ego-self integration is successful (through Brünnhilde, Siegfried, and
again Brünnhilde), the self regains possession of the ring of wholeness
(through the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde). The chain of possession of the physical
ring as an object turns upon itself to become a ring of experiential process.
The spiral then continues, hopefully with the person becoming more conscious
during each cycle. Unfortunately, the spiral can also turn backwards [more]
The challenge is whether mytho-poetic insights into how transformative fellowship
"works" (whether from Tolkien or Wagner -- or even Monkey)
can be transformed into operational insights in relation to the challenges of
collective action in response to the condition of the planet. This question
brings the focus back to how the different cycles function in relation to one
another -- whether as cycles of the larger environment, or cycles sustaining
life within a group, or the corresponding cycles within a person. To what extent
do the cycles in each case resonate in structure and function with those in
Cycles: lost and found
In the tale of the Lord of the Rings, the rings are variously lost,
misplaced, hidden or unworn. The elves had "taken off all their rings"
having realized the corruption that the Dark Lord could exert through them.
At the time of the tale, their three rings were held by Gandalf, Elrond and
Galadriel and were respectively associated with Fire, Air and Water. Of the
seven originally given to the dwarf lords, three had been consumed by dragons
and four were in Sauron's possession -- as were the nine originally given to
men. The One Ring was in the possession of Frodo the Hobbit -- our hero!
Frodo, as a representative of the "halflings" nicely reflects the
incompleteness of our individual psychosocial makeup, our relative ignorance,
our doubts, and our sense of disempowerment in the face of large (and menacing)
forces far beyond our individual control. Indeed if we were true to our hobbit
nature, we would stay at home and celebrate in the peaceful haven in which we
are wont to live -- our cocoons. But as the anti-globalization forces have indicated:
"the meek are getting ready"!
In society today, the cycles vital to sustaining the planet might also be said
to have been "variously lost, misplaced, hidden or unworn" in the
sense that particular cycles may be the concern of many (notably business and
market cycles) but their totality is largely the concern of none. Exceptions
include bodies such as the Foundation
for the Study of Cycles (founded by Edward R Dewey in 1940) and individuals
providing web resources such as Ray Tomes [more]
and Robert Macleod Christie [more]
. The Foundation built a database of over 1,300 identified cycles and is later
claimed to have catalogued some 20,000 cycles [more].
In 1970, Dewey and others started a Journal of Interdisciplinary Cycle Research
that has now become
Biological Rhythm Research (journal of the European Society for Chronobiology).
The disciplines covered include frequencies pertaining to astronomical phenomena,
solar phenomena, earth movement in space cycles, earth geological cycles, climatic
cycles, weather cycles, electromagnetic cycles, evolutionary cycles, circadian
rhythms, other biological cycles, behavioural cycles, economic events, financial
cycles, wars, battles, prices, demographics, political, and so on.
- Biological rhythms: The Journal of Biological Rhythms publishes
original, full-length reports in English of empirical investigations into
all aspects of biological rhythmicity particularly rhythms related to the
major environmental cycles, including daily (circadian) rhythms, tidal rhythms,
annual rhythms (including photoperiodism), as well as other biological rhythms
that interact with those rhythms influenced by the environment. Topics include
genetic, biochemical, physiological, behavioral, and modeling approaches to
understanding the nature, mechanisms, and functions of biological rhythms
in all species. [more]
- Environmental cycles: These include seasons, drought periods, El
Niño patterns, biogeochemical cycles, short-term successional stages,
and long-term climatological change. Drought cycles in the western United
States, for example, impact natural resources such as wildlife and forests,
the capital needs for dams, reservoirs, and other storage devices, agricultural
institutions, litigation over water rights, and many other components of the
human ecosystem. The cycles can be measured by duration (such as length of
growing season) or occurrence (the proportion of years in a decade with low
precipitation). Changes in environmental cycles, such as the end of a drought
or the movement of the seasons, can alter ecosystem and social system responses,
- Cycles of biologically active elements: These cycles are an important
part of basic and advanced Earth Science, Ecology and Biogeochemistry courses.
An understanding of biogeochemical cycles and anthropogenic impacts on them
is also fundamental in studies of global climate change. Unfortunately, most
presentations of biogeochemical cycles occupy one of two extremes: they are
either presented so simply that they contain information on pathways only,
or in such detail that they defy comprehension and are useful only to specialists.
Further, most workers have specialized in facets of individual cycles, and
broad perspectives and an understanding of interactions between cycles is
- Social cycles: Pitirim Sorokin (Sociocultural Causality, Space,
Time, 1943) noted how human life is an persistent competition for time
by various social activities and their often conflicting motives and objectives.
With Robert Merton, he illustrated the significance of associating a group
activity or event with a temporal setting, thereby reaffirming the centrality
of the group to the individuals who observe its temporal demands as well as
coordinating activities that promote group solidarity and/or productivity.
"They arise from the round of group life, are largely determined by the routine
of religious activity and the occupational order of the day, are essentially
a product of social interaction" (Social Time: A Methodological and Functional
Analysis, American Journal of Sociology, 1937:621). [more]
The Journal of World System Research is anothe resource [more]
In the continuing work on the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential [online]
efforts have been made to document the thousands of loops or cycles linking
world problems, or the global strategies in response to them [more].
Users can experiment with visualizing them in various ways [more]
and even binding them to music [more].
In a web-enabled knowledge society, there is a case for exploring how such patterns
of links contribute to the "songlines of the noosphere" rather than
thinking of them in relation to "information highways" [more].
The phenomenon of "webrings" that link related web sites is a move
in this direction (with 62,000 Rings, 1.08 million active Sites, and 670,000+
unique registered users in July 2002) [more].
The possibility of "songlines" even suggests the merit of envisaging
the sacralization of hyperlink geometry [more].
The "One Ring" of cycles
Given the jungian interest expressed in many studies on the work of Tolkien,
Wagner's Ring, and Monkey, it is appropriate to note C G Jung's
own interest in the Chinese I Ching (or Book of Changes) to which
he provided an introduction [text]
when it was first translated. The book claims to offer insight into the whole
pattern of changes -- whether in nature, in society, in the family, or in the
individual. It acquired great popularity in the West during the transformative
period of the 1960s and thereafter.
There are many texts on the I Ching, notably on the web [resources;
reflecting a variety of levels of interest. Of special interest is the fact
that one of the approaches to an overview of the complete pattern of changes
is through various classical circular arrangements of "hexagrams"
(based on a binary coding used to represent the conditions between which change
takes place) [more; more;
The most common of these being the King Wen sequence (Later Heaven) and the
Fu-Shi sequence (Earlier Heaven). One such diagram groups the 64 hexagrams into
a circular (active or Yang) arrangement within which is placed a square (passive
or Yin) arrangement [more].
This diagram was originally sent to Leibniz in 1703 by Joachim Bouvet from China.
It originally came from the book True Meaning of I Ching by Zhu Xi, a
Neo-Confucian of the Song dynasty.
In terms of the preoccupations of this exploration with the "One Ring",
the circular diagram of 64 hexagrams can be usefully understood as a deeply
considered effort to portray such a ring. As normally presented, the component
cycles are implicit as a feature of the binary notation associated with a hexagram.
Each hexagram represents a condition that may transform along implicit pathways
into specific other conditions -- indicated by other hexagrams in the ring of
hexagrams. As an indication, some of these links have been made explicit in
one circular representation [more].
Cyclic pathways from hexagram to hexagram can be explored in relation to a range
of perspectives: dialogue, vision, conferencing, networking, policy-making,
community, and lifestyle [more].
The particular interest of this "One Ring", that does indeed "bind"
the many transformational pathways, is that as an emergent property it does
not lend itself to "possession" in any normal sense of the term. Indeed
each condition within it is a challenge to understanding that can only be effectively
evoked using metaphor. One such metaphor is related to the notion of "fellowship",
The ring of hexagrams is effectively well-equipped to deflect efforts to "possess"
it, since "possession" is one of the polarized conditions that it
encodes. It was undoubtedly such features that were attractive to Jung, especially
in the light of his interest in the psychosocial implications of the alchemical
challenge of identifying the "container for the universal solvent".
The "One Ring" is of that nature. A modern technical parallel is the
magnetohydrodynamic design of a "magnetic bottle" to contain plasma
to prevent it from being "quenched" by the walls of the container
during nuclear fusion [more].
In this sense efforts to possess the ring have effects on the emergence of higher
order insights equivalent to the process of quenching [more].
Interestingly, such designs and the wiring designs of motors and dynamos both
have features suggestive of the circular arrangements of hexagrams.
More generally, of special interest in the I Ching ring arrangement
is the way any polar conditions, such as light-dark and subjecive-objective,
are interwoven -- reflecting much of the ambiguity of the "shadow"
discussed above. Indeed the importance that Jung attached to understanding the
psychosocial implications of shadow, and the nature of the "One Ring"
shed a different light on Tolkien's description of that ring:
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
As an enthusiast of Jung's work, Tolkien would indeed subscribe to the notion
that the One Ring, and the insights it represents, necessarily involve an encounter
with shadow. But the subtlety of the One Ring that emerges from that encounter
is different from that golden ring "forged by the Dark Lord" on which
conscious attention is focused in such a way as to obscure recognition of the
subtler emergent ring. In that sense, as an intellectual model, it does indeed
need to be "destroyed". But it is indeed through the emergent ring
that the many other rings may be "found".
Conversations with ourselves
As stressed from a jungian perspective, these archetypal stories are exemplifications
of the individuation process. At the same time they offer templates through
which people can gain some intuitive understanding of patterns operating collectively
-- through the projection from individual experience into the collective. It
is with these collective patterns that the planet is now seriously confronted
-- although any possibility of fruitful collective response (as a Fellowship)
is necessarily undermined by our individual challenges.
The daily news brings numerous examples of failures of dialogue -- exemplified
by "11th September" and its sequel -- and an increasingly vague sense
of what might constitute a viable way forward. There is also a sense that many
international dialogues that are hopefully intended to clarify the way forward
are themselves caught in cycles -- trapped by our own very human propensities.
One of the first policy scientists, Geoffrey Vickers, made the point: "A
trap is a function of the nature of the trapped" (Freedom in a Rocking
Curiously there are a multitude of international conferences organized into
series, normally with a cyclic periodicity of 1 to 6 years (see International
Congress Calendar). These are the formal vehicles of official and unofficial
international dialogue. There is however no sense of how these cycles of dialogue
interact to engender the "One Ring" which would amplify any synergies
and harmonies between them.
Of course the same is true of the multitude of conversations that are the vehicle
of life in any local community. All that can usually be said is that in certain
communities the cycles and themes of conversation seem to self-organize in such
a way as to sustain and enhance the life of the community -- whereas in others
the reverse occurs.
The point is even more poignantly made in the case of the "internal dialogues"
through which each person articulates their world and their response to it.
There too there are repeating cycles on a variety of issues by which one is
entrapped in some way. There too, these cycles may self-organize serendipitously
to enlighten one's relationship to the world -- although the reverse is perhaps
more often the case [Judge,
Using Tolkien's figures, it is in this sense that the Frodo-like aspect of
our character is in a form of Fellowship with a Gandalf-aspect, an Aragorn-aspect,
etc -- in an effort to respond to our personal Dark Riders and the Sauron-aspect
behind them. We may be able to identify our evanescent elven-aspects that have
knowledge of the "rings". We will certainly have to deal with the
Saruman-aspect with its highly knowledgable authority, arrogance and subtle
treachery. And clinging desperately to each of us is the slimy Gollum-aspect
that would so dearly like to re-possess the One Ring for itself alone -- caricaturing
the most problematic feature of intellectual copyright in a knowledge society.
In conclusion: varieties of ring
One way to bring together the various threads above is to cluster and distinguish
the varieties of ring:
1. Ring as physical protective fence: "circling the wagons",
fortress wall, ring of fortresses, "ring of fire", walled off settlements
and ghettos, gated community, rings of satellites ("star wars" strategic
defence), sporting (or gladiatorial) arena
The object so encircled is the traditional focus of possession and divisive
concerns about ownership of property.
2. Ring as psycho-social organization: poetry circle, round and ring
dancing, drug ring, crime ring, call-girl ring, price fixing ring, "ring
fencing", seasonal migration routes, circle games (ring-a-ring-a-rosy),
cycles of violence, cycles of substance abuse, slave rings (sex, immigrant,
etc), magic circle, fellowship of a gladiatorial ring, roundtable
Some of the groups bounded in this way may also be possessed as property
subject to ownership -- as in the case of corporations or some sports teams.
3. Ring of information: ring of websites (webring), singing rounds,
surveillance ring, spy ring, ring of detectors (sentries, listening posts,
Again information held in this way may be subject to possession as intellectual
property. Of particular interest is the current technical importance attached
to "broken rings" (and their detection), whether in computer networks
or in webrings.
4. Ring of symbolism: marriage ring, fraternity ring, emblematic signet
ring, ring of authority, Olympic rings, memoral ring of stones (Stonehenge)
Although apparently outmoded, such rings remain of major importance to
individual and collective identity -- and are also the focus of psycho-political
manipulation (as illustrated by past initiatives in relation to the Olympic
rings). Symbols, in the form of such logos, may also be possessed as
designs, although their meaning cannot be so effectively owned. But, as
it is said of the circular designs of Celtic knotwork: If that which is
not prose must be poetry, knotwork's meaning defies literal translation
and should be sought at a deeper level. The repeated crossings of the physical
and the spiritual are expressed in the interlace of the knots. The never
ending path of the strand represents the permanence and the continuum of
life, love and faith. There are no distinct boundaries between this world
and the otherworld, nor between birth, life and death. The phases of life
are envisaged as an endless journey and so the endless knot of Celtic art
represents the binding of the soul to the earth, the eternal travel of the
human spirit through successive incarnations on a search for sacred and
divine wisdom [more]
5. Ring of power: as with Tolkien's "One Ring" and the magical
powers of "old-style" control and surveillance it conferred upon
the bearer -- and through which subservience may be expressed by those so
There are many examples of circular magical talismans and rings acquired
and worn in order to ward off evil spirits. Magical circles have a long
tradition of use by magicians to protect themselves in rituals for conjuring
spirits. Invocational rites tend to occur within such a circle, drawn by
the practitioner for the occasion, and then erased or ended to "release"
the powers to go on with their performing of the work the rite asked of
them. Roundtables, in the Arthurian sense, are a collective variant -- now
transformed into boards of directors of the powerful and especially into
situation and war rooms supported by rings of command consoles (with missile
keys). Many corporate struggles relate to efforts to posses and control
such configurations of power [Etzion
and Niv, 1994]. Curiously the management sciences employ many centro-symmetric
strategic models [eg Magic
Quadrant] that resemble those traditionally favoured by magicians also
endeavouring to control and direct the forces of their environment.
6. Ring as cycle (involving creation and destruction): as with Wagner's
"passing of the gold" around a ring, here the ring is defined primarily
by the movement of passing (rather than by the coveted physical ring that
is passed), with those (actors) in that process activating the ring cycle
through the dynamics between them at each stage. It is the cycle of actions
that defines the ring (of which the physical ring -- created in the process
-- then becomes a symbol).
So-called gift (potlach) cultures may, to some degree, function this way.
Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance. They arise
in populations that do not have significant material-scarcity problems with
survival goods, notably among aboriginal cultures living in ecozones with
mild climates and abundant food and in certain strata of industrialized
society, especially in show business and among the very wealthy (elaborate
and usually public acts of philanthropy). The potlach is a process of work
and saving, fasting and feasting, capital formation and distribution --
a gift ritual prevalent among several groups in the American northwest.
It may be understood as a system by which goods are destroyed in order to
attain rank and as such is practised in varying forms by every culture on
this planet. Abundance makes command relationships difficult to sustain
and exchange relationships an almost pointless game. In gift cultures, social
status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.
Involvement in the open source software community has been described in
these terms. The abundance of information tools creates a situation in which
the only available measure of competitive success is reputation among one's
peers. The open source community has provoked considerable discussion about
how this process might be "possessed" in the same way that other
horizontally or vertically integrated processes have been possessed by the
7. Disciplinary ring: as with the ring worn involuntarily by Monkey
as a constraint on disruptive behaviour. That ring is a form of psycho-behavioural
"implant" that is effectively "absorbed" as the bearer
disciplines his actions -- the discipline of the ring is progressively embodied.
A rosary or circlet of mala beads might be seen in the same light [more].
Both might be contrasted with contemporary physical analogues such as the
electronic restraint (stun belt) for prisoners, or fitting an electronic
cuff to arm or leg for monitoring of probationers -- as successors to slave
rings. In this context it is effectively "know-how" (in contrast
to information or power) that is the focus of "possession" through
the acquisition of discipline. The process whereby any discipline is acquired
may however be owned (and even copyrighted and franchised), although traditionally
it has been a matter of imposing, or evoking, obedience to a "rule"
or ritual (as in monasteries and ashrams). The commercialization of education
may lead to a situation, in which the process of acquisition of knowledge
in many sectors is possessed as property in this way (as in certain "certification"
processes) -- reinforced by binding people into a cycle of refresher courses
to maintain their competence.
8. Ring as meta-organization: In contrast to Tolkien's "One Ring",
and complexifying Wagner's ring of transformative processes, the circular
arrangement of hexagrams of the I Ching may be understood as a form
of meta-organization of the transformative processes of change.
This organization suggests a form of discipline, or "way" to
be journeyed, in the sense explored by Monkey -- but one in which both correct
and incorrect pathways are still "bound" within the way as a strange
It is an emergent property of the self-organization of change processes
-- traditionally described negatively with all the ambiguity of Lao Tze
[Tao Te Ching]
and Chung Tzu [more]
as the "way which can be described is not the way". It is possible
that conversation, such as in the form of dialogue to which David Bohm (On
Dialogue, 1996) aspired, can acquire a form of organization like this.
As noted earlier, any such meta-organization is highly elusive to possession.
But the representations of such organization can easily be subject to copyright
and ownership -- as is regrettably the tendency with respect to many insights
of this kind, whether old or new.
9. Ring as breathing cycle: The many spiritually-oriented disciplines
of breathing (from the misleadingly superficial to the incomprehensibly profound)
necessarily focus on the respiratory cycle understood as divided into various
stages of transformation of energy.
Jung, for example, associated these with a process of internal alchemy
[more]. He proposed
a meditative individuation process using the metaphors of alchemy and the
archetypes of the subconscious -- anima, animus, shadow and projection,
plus many others. Curiously it is Gregory Bateson in a section on Form,
Substance and Difference [more]
of his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) that relates the depth
psychology work of Jung to the thermodynamics of Sadi Carnot. But it is
in another book, translated by Jung's colleague Richard Wilhelm (1929),
that Jung comments on a fundamental cycle identified in a Chinese text T'ai
I Chin Hua Tsung Chih (The Secret of the Golden Flower) -- more
recently translated by Thomas Cleary (1991) -- which showed Jung how to
initiate this alchemy through the breathing cycle [more;
more]. This focus
has also been compared to the Nestorian Gospel of St Thomas [more].
The much-cited Chinese work discusses the "circulation of the light" of
awareness through various conditions during meditation [diagram]
reminiscent (if only in the metaphors used to describe them) of stages of
the Carnot heat cycle. The "circulation of the light" refers to the
movement of energy along a central pathway -- posing challenges metaphorically
reminiscent of the design and operation of high-energy particle accelerators,
cyclotrons and synchrotrons (for which there are many applet demos on the
The light is associated with contemplation suggesting that a form of energy
(awakened as the body becomes still) attains the qualities of the light
as the mind focuses upon or contemplates the spiritual ideal [more].
It is implied that this cycle necessarily embodies the insights associated
with the transformations of awareness encoded by the circular arrangement
of the I Ching. Whilst breathing has traditionally been valued as
a metaphor in terms of "inspiration", much remains to be discovered
about how "inspiration" works for a group and how "expiration"
is to be understood as its cyclic complement.
Each succeeding type of ring above embodies and transcends in interesting ways
the attributes of the previous rings. From an emphasis on the physical or social
nature of the ring, the shift is to psycho-social dynamics and to their embodiment
in new patterns of understanding that are ultimately what sustains life most
intimately. But at each stage, part of the learning dynamic lies through the
effort to "possess" the ring. The learning is associated with the
discovery that the nature of what one seeks to possess in this way, and what
can be so possessed, is a mere shadow of the intuition of why one would seek
to possess it and of how "possession" might then be understood. From
this persepctive, "possession of the ring" may then be understood
in terms of new forms of "self-possession" that enactively embody
the environment more dynamically and cast new light on the nature of the ring
of Fellowship "within" [more;
Tolkien's tale, and the movie, offers a variety of dramatis
personae and locations that merit reflection at this time
Baggins: the very ordinary person with extraordinary potential
||Each of us
the wise wizard, bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire; held Hobbits near to
his heart, and their race in high regard
||Various eminent figures that function across institutional
and sectoral boundaries who place great value in very ordinary people
the man of the world protective of the disadvantaged, otherwise known as
Strider; led the Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf's fall
||Many community development leaders active under dangerous
conditions in developing countries
representative of Men; succombed to the temptation of the Ring.
representative of the Elves
representative of the Dwarves
loyal friend of Frodo Baggins
|Pippin: loyal friend of Frodo Baggins
|Merry: loyal friend of Frodo Baggins
queen of the elves at Lorien; bearer of Nenya, the ring of adamant; provider
of gifts to the Fellowship of the Ring
elven ruler at Lorien
bearer of the ring Vilya, one of the 3 elven rings of power.
Forces of the Shadow
the creator of the One Ring and served by the 9 Nazgûl or Dark Riders;
master of deceit and treachery; creator of Black
Speech; breeding of the Olog-Hai
|Nazgul: collective name of the nine men corrupted by
the power of Sauron's Nine Rings, and transformed into his dark and deathless
servants -- the Dark Riders or Ringwraiths
long-standing leader in apparent opposition to repressive forces, who concealed
his secret desires for power, glory, and possession of the One Ring; extremely
well-informed concerning the rings and the possibilities for their control;
despises Gandalf who would not be involved in his schemes; extremely skilled
||Some highly intelligent and eminent figures with hidden agendas
and associations with repressive forces
a filthy slimy creature who lived on the small underground lake, in the
center of the cave and held the One Ring as his most precious treasure
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Mantak Chia and Maneewan Chia. Awaken Healing Energy through the Tao: the Taoist
secret of circulating internal power. Healing Tao Books, 1993
Dallia Etzion and Amittai Niv. The "Magician's Predicament" as a Managerial
Hazard. From: Lieblich, A. and Josselson, R. (Eds.) Exploring identity and gender:
the narrative study of lives. Sage, 1994, Vol. 2 [text]
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perspectives on human intervention in global biogeochemical cycles. International
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Rings of Power [text]
Tung-Pin Lu. Secret of the Golden Flower: a Chinese Book of Life [Taiyi
jinhua zongzhi]. Harper Collins, 1992 (translated by Thomas Cleary)
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