… re-framing the seven deadly sins …

                 Pogo. Walt Kelly 1971

The timeless insight of mystics was frequently censured by prevailing orthodoxies and only available to a few scholars. But even though mystical writings have been made available over the last two centuries, readers form a minority. Meister Eckhart’s quote – “The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me,” – implies that we envision inherent archetypal ideals to then realise and embody them within.

In the projected mirror we may see love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness reflected, or, depending on our state of mind, we may equally see indifference, rejection and severe judgement. What if our goodness is not rewarded? What if love betrays and we turn anger inwards? What if we battle with resentment, find fault with everything and despise sanctimonious people? The same process applies; we absorb what is mirrored via our inherent imaginative power.

To direct the moral education of citizen, spiritual offences were formulated in Greek monastic circles and coined as The Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (not to care), vainglory, and pride. Over time theologians made various changes – the sin of sadness became sloth, and then Pope Gregory reduced the list in descending order to: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. To counteract sins, virtues were advised as humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality and diligence, qualities not easy to live up to from day to day. The deadly sins instilled fear and guilt … and left deep cultural marks, self-blame being the most destructive.

Self-blame makes for turbulent minds. Only scapegoats will ease the burden. Among all regulars a perfect scapegoat served Christianity well – Eve. The collective psyche contains not only unknown riches, but also stuff we disregard (much like the plastic that accumulates in oceans,) thoughts and deeds behind our facades we won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for, and instead conveniently place on the shoulders of suitable others.

 “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”  Carl Jung

Balancing Freud’s focus on pathology, Abraham Maslow studied self-actualizing people and outlined a hierarchy of basic human needs. His map suggests when an early need is not adequately fulfilled; narcissistic or psychosomatic symptoms may result, blocking growth. Little is up to us. Families rarely support this process, as they can be burdened by complexes and dysfunctional behaviour patterns from one generation to the next.

‘The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.’  – William. R. Inge

No wonder many of us resort to blaming circumstances, parents, state, strangers, or appease all by adopting self-blame. Then again, some people rise from grim circumstances and become inspiring people. What’s their secret? It’s my guess that a strong desire for gratification, bestowed by a non-personal archetypal calling, can empower us to transcend seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The idea of deadly sins put the fear of hell in people. Sinner were not deemed worthy to enter paradise. But if we consider that human behaviours communicates intrinsic needs that seek fulfillment in the expanding spiral of evolution towards wholeness, the very idea of using sin as a threat is naive, and more, counterproductive. Here a short look at the deadly sins …

PRIDE – an excessive belief in one’s abilities and ignorance of the grace of God. 

This relates to an evolutionary trend of our time, individuation – becoming who we can be – best attempted with the mediation of a healthy ego. This process happens mainly in the West and is frowned upon by fundamentalists whose ideals are fixed on heaven. Where tradition equates with identity, displeasing the expectations of family and state carries a risk of alienation. The challenge of freeing oneself emotionally, intellectually and spiritually then becomes heroic. It means sticking to one’s inner truth against all objections and raised eyebrows. It means regard for the potential that is emerging in oneself and others. I grok these words by my Sufi friend, from a lecture during the 1980’s …

‘The experience you have within yourself of your own separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’ (Fazal I. Khan)

Those who break free from parental commands when their inner truth is compromised do not seek union in the womb, but aim to experience conscious union through embodying their ideals. Life brings along companions who recognize the authenticity and backbone it takes to walk this path, even if it seems foolish and brings no answers. Yes, pride may sneak in, but equally gratitude, humility, and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all life.

ENVY – desire for the status and abilities we see in others and want for ourselves. The need is to emulate, to find aspirations that resonate within. From early on we are looking for role models to reflect our potential. If such recognition is withheld or distorted, the need can take possession of us, with all the consequences of being rejected, belittled, abused, and feeling ill done by, until we realize our own resources. Ralph Waldo Emerson evokes in his essay on self-reliance a more helpful notion of envy:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is, which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

GLUTTONY – a craving to consume more than is required. In simple terms it is a hunger that knows not what is seeks. And yes, it is bound to become an indulgence – a chasing after stimulation, information, speculation. Until the hunger knows what it seeks it will not be satisfied. The search is intense. In spiritual terms this hunger can develop into devotion.

LUST – a craving for touch, warmth, pleasure of the body and sex. The need underlying lust is a longing for intimacy and ecstasy. It often fails to satisfy, but behind the shadow of excess is the ideal, to be consumed, like the moth by the flame.

ANGER – results from frustration and is all too human. Sadly, when our existence is denied, or we experience and witness injustice, yet lack opportunities to express anger creatively, this powerful energy will make us ill or explode in rage. That said, even conscious resistance is a creative act. We are endowed with natural aggression to even make it here. Each one of us results from the fastest sperm, the one that made it. Oppression and cold rationality feed anger. If repressed, anger takes us over.

GREED is also based on the desire for recognition. If the experience of being seen, heard and appreciated is missing, we must find opportunities to succeed in something.

SLOTH used to be called sadness – brought on by a sense of meaninglessness. Change wants to happen but one is helpless to act. These days depression is a collective phenomenon. On a personal level not acting could be seen as fear of failure, though often it is the necessary dark phase for a kind of alchemy in the psyche that leads to new wings.

What if we have satisfied our basic needs? The horizon is never reached. Beyond every horizon is another. This includes the horizons of our mind, beyond which we hope to find purpose. We go on journeys, outer, inner, to find out why we are here. But the search never ends. We take drugs to kill this yearning, this question of ‘why’, because we can’t face that maybe the only purpose is the search.

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

And yet, the search liberates. The attachments we have to right and wrong, to good and evil, to our own importance, blocks our search for new meaning, prevents us from living with intensity. Our most precious and vital scripture is nature, life itself.

These thoughts were drafted eleven years ago. I would have liked to come up with a fuller gestalt to make my point, but presently I enjoy a holiday in psychic wilderness.

And today’s Haiku …

Devils besiege us

As do angelic spirits

Both hold their best truth

While we are mediators

In the psychic wilderness


Filed under Blog

23 responses to “… re-framing the seven deadly sins …

  1. This is such a wonderful, insightful article Ashen! I particularly enjoyed reading your take on the seven deadly sins, most especially “Sloth” and learnt (only today!) that it was once known as “Sadness.” Much here to reflect upon, thank you for sharing. Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Deborah. It’s amazing how these moral precepts survived. Even today’s societies suffer from the extremes of scapegoating and self-blame, both equally destructive. The same goes for the concept of Karma, which is riddled with superstition heaped on individuals and not seen in the wider context of the collective psyche.
      Interestingly, the most viewed post on my blog is the sharing of a poem by Hafiz – My Sweet, Crushed Angel –

      Liked by 2 people

  2. If sadness be sin woe is me!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you Ashen – a lovely post that I will return to again. I love this quote: ‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan – may your psychic wilderness continue to mediate as we continue to search .. and nature is a good place, the best scripture. Thank you …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So insightful Ashen. I have experienced all at one time or another. For me, to be human is to be flawed and to experience all aspects of being human, I guess. But still there is something in me that finds a place of wanting to rise above it all. Sometimes I have glimpses.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Rob

    Hi Ashen
    Thankyou for shining some light on the underbelly of these imperatives of institutional Christianity. Given that perhaps the most fundamental imperative of the human heart is to feel belonging, including in the broadest and deepest sense of the term, it’s not difficult to intuit the desperate contortions and repression that go on in the attempt to convince the external world, including Superego (God), that one is “not guilty” of these “heinous crimes”, in the hope of being approved of, embraced and loved. Like a desperate, abandoned young child.
    It’s a vain, agonising, facade to impose on oneself…and on the world.
    As the somewhat maverick C of E vicar, Peter Owen-Jones, said, “Jesus didn’t come to teach morality. He came to teach consciousness.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • A sense of belonging, yes, a basic need. Today it’s families of heart and mind we can travel alongside for a while. The caravans of dreams 🙂 The internet provides this for many who would otherwise be very isolated. Small is beautiful.


  6. theburningheart

    Great exposition of the seven deathly sins of man, it brought some memories, as an anecdote I used to work in a business where our warehouse was named the Warehouse of the Seven Sins!

    Customers would park their cars on the back of the business right in front of our warehouse with the big sign, rarely a day would go by without a new customer, or more asking me intrigued about the seven sins, and what the warehouse was all about.

    Jokingly, I would tell them the place was a dungeon like place where the owner would perpetuate every sin on his new victims!

    And in fact the place was full of plasters from Paris, he bought a big truckload, by the thousands of replicas of the mysterious gallery of the chimeras, or gargoyles of Notre Dame, Paris, sometime after WWII.

    Standard items on sale through our shop, to say customers were amazed, and intrigued by such bizarre display will be understating their wonder,

    And when seeing, and reading the cardboard sign over the seven sins, countless conversations ensued about them.

    The Original Tinder Box Santa Monica, CA - Keith Valcourt 2014

    Most people would ask why dejection was considered a sin?

    Sloth, or Acedia It is the most difficult sin to define, and to credit as sin, since it refers to a peculiar jumble of notions, dating from antiquity and including mental, spiritual, pathological, and physical states. some consider the most accurate translation of acedia to be “self-pity,” for it conveys both the melancholy of the condition and self-centeredness upon which it is founded.

    Now day we can even call it depression, certainly not considered a sin today.

    My simple answer was to tell them, it was a sign you were not happy with the Will of God, therefore a major sin.

    I truly enjoyed the post, not to say it brought memories with it. 🙂


    • I’m pleased you enjoyed my exposition.
      Your story … The warehouse of seven sins, what a place to work. Chimeras, gargoyles …
      I guess we’re all sinners, no way about it. We must live with it 🙂
      Unless we surrender to the greater will. Then again, unless this arrives as deep insight, what’s the use of prescribing it?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. theburningheart

    Insha’Allah! 🙂


  8. Succinct, wise, beautiful. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So true. The sin of sloth is the one to ponder upon… The only good news is that God loves us, and every sinner has another chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In seems to me that transgressions against any law have an evolutionary function, and whatever we project towards an ideal, we aim to manifest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We like it or not, but all the Universe is a subject to the Law. In any sense. If we fall short of reaching the Ideal, Someone has to pick up and finish it for us, so to speak. Evolution is a spiral that goes in circles, but every time at a higher level. We always have a chance to do better next time 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Such a lot to ponder on. You’re right, we take words for granted. These seven sins, even for many who reject religion, underpin most of our lives, and yet have become so familiar that half the time we don’t notice them, let alone think about the deeper implications. This is a timely re-frame. Thank you for this. I need to settle down and read it again, and probably again after that.

    Liked by 1 person

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