Eros and Thanatos

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Some fragmentary thoughts…

Eros ~ appreciation for eternal beauty, life energy, the bright warm force within, passion for living, desire for immortality, libido, will to live, psychic relatedness (from Jung) – that is, interconnection and interaction with other sentient beings, procreation, creation, survive and thrive, pro-social behaviour and conscious cultivation of positive emotions, life instinct (from Freud), from eran “to love,” erasthai “to love, desire”.

Thanatos ~ death drive, self-destruction, death instinct, that which is born must die, mortido, the inanimate state and extinction, anti-social behaviour, risk-taking and the cultivation of negative emotions, trauma and an unconscious desire to die, aggression against self and others, sleep, depression, the thrill of dread and chaos, ”to be or not to be”, programmed disintegration of the elements, melancholia, the desire to leave the insecurity of organic life,..aghori, asceticism..I’m going to include natural sadness and despair here as Thanatos is natural to us, just as every seed when generated harbours its own withering…

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Both need each other. Are part of each other. The reflections of each other.

In balance.

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The spiritual path brings one close along the sharp edges of Eros and Thanatos. Eros is, in a way, easier to understand, to cleave towards. But liberation and freedom embrace the knowledge of the entropy and decay of living matter. The knife edge challenge is not to wander solely in Thanatos while still alive. To recognise that morbidity can be a desire to escape from unbearable tension. It is not death that consciously liberates that tension, but fuller living.

It is a moment by moment choosing. Death at one shoulder and life at the other…while knowing they are inseparable.

Hans Thoma (1839-1924) - Self-portrait:

Hans Thoma (1839-1924) – Self-portrait



The Nirvana Principle – to remove internal/external tension or excitation, or to keep such at as low a level as possible..

Barbara Low’s term for the psychological equivalent of homeostasis, the push for the least amount of tension. Different from the pleasure principle …. the Nirvana Principle is primarily under the sway of the death drive, whereas the pleasure principle is powered by Eros. –

“It is possible that deeper than the Pleasure-principle lies the Nirvana-principle, as one may call it—the desire of the newborn creature to return to that stage of omnipotence, where there are no non-fulfilled desires, in which it existed within the mother’s womb….” ~ Barbara Low

Some argue this ‘nirvana principle’ idea is an abuse of the concept of Nirvana. And that is a valid argument. Nirvana is not about ”soul death” or annihilation, there is no desire for a regression to a primal state of escape. Nirvana is about the cessation of that which obscures the truth.  For this purpose however the term ‘nirvana principle’ is useful to illustrate the fine line, the sharp border, the cutting edge, where both morbidity and dispassion can co-arise with expanding consciousness. It’s natural. It is useful, however, to be aware of the veil between these impulses. The differences. Dispassion is not the same as annihilation or despair.



Both eros and thanatos drives are natural to us, but in their confused forms – such as for example narcissism (eros) or masochism (thanatos) – they do not serve our souls and fragile hearts.

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An afterthought…

Our wanderings between the two worlds of Eros and Thanatos could be illustrated by the myth of Hades and Persephone. For some months of the year the Maiden Persephone (youthful, vital, creative) must spend time with her husband Hades (death, entropy, darkness, hibernation) because she was induced into eating the pomegranate seeds (she incarnated in a human life).

Hades and Persephone illustration by Errol Le Cain. I love the story of Hades and Persephone. It's like Phantom of the Opera, but with a happier conclusion!:

But after time spent with Hades, Persephone must return to the world of Light, of lust for life, of warmth, of joy; otherwise the whole earth withers. Even the gods grow weary of an excess of sorrow.


Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

Posted in Western Mysticism

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