All Things in Time: Chronos, Kairos, Aion

Today, I’ve got a wild one for you. We’re going to be taking a look at the nature of time itself, as seen through the lenses of the three Greek conceptions of time, Chronos, Kairos, and Aion. Along the way, I’m going to bring this back to Eden and the Dreamtime for a new perspective on the dawn of Man, and we’re going to try and tie in natural law, attractors, inevitability, and more.

Let’s get it.

We’re going to begin with a quatrain that I came up with on a long run-

“As once it was,
so shall it be.
All things in Time
return to me.”

For context, this is kind of a riff on Parkway Drive’s (incredible) song Chronos, which is also, in a perfect segue, the first Greek god on our tour today, ladies and gentlemen. Now, for context, before we get into the divinity aspects, we’re going to cover what the three basic kinds of time are (which I touched on before in the Meaning of AION series):

Chronos, with his sickle

The Three Kinds of Time

Chronos is linear time, as in the “arrow of time” that moves in one direction. In my conception, Chronos is the entirety of the span between Alpha, the beginning, and Omega, the end.

Next is Kairos, which is something like the “opportune moment” or the “right time to act.” This is the hardest to grasp, since we don’t have a direct parallel to this in our culture. Have no fear, though, I have the easiest example- this would be when you’re playing Whack-A-Mole, the time that the mole pops out of the hole is the only time you can hit it. See, Kairos is directly linked to your action, where Chronos is something that happens to you whether you want it or not. You’re going to get older and be consumed by linear time no matter what you do, but Kairos is something that demands a response to be captured. In my conception, Kairos exists at certain points between Alpha and Omega, and may come in contact with Aion.

Kairos, doing… something?

Speaking of Aion, this is the third sort of time- where Chronos is linear, Aion is cyclical. Chronos here would be the span of the year 2019, which we move through in one direction, where Aion is the four seasons, which return each year. In another way, Chronos is a specific day, while Aion is the cycle of sunrise and sunset.

Aion, encircled with a serpent and standing on the cosmic egg- remember this for later.

Aion is not constrained solely to cycles, however, it is also mythic time. I’ve talked about this before, but Aion is technically the Aboriginal Dreamtime, as well as where pre-Fall Eden would have been. It’s sacred time, and I’d argue that the state of mind accessed with psychedelics is about as close as we get to a direct experience of Aion. For the most out there example, if you’re familiar with the Exegesis of Phillip K. Dick, you’ll probably see how the idea he proposes of a parallel timeline that exists synchronously (note the root word Chronos in there) maps pretty well, though I’d caution that there’s an element of stimulant-induced psychosis in PKD’s writing, so use discretion.

Let’s try and piece the three of these together.

Chronos makes intuitive sense, since you’ve probably used a clock before and know that rewinding the clock doesn’t make time reverse. Kairos relates to Chronos in the sense that 9:00 on the clock means you need to be at work or you’re going to get fired. In a really profane (here used as the opposite of sacred, not as in profanity like swearing) sense, Aion is your cyclical workday and the eternal nature of your tedious office job. Sorry, that’s probably too close to home.

See, it’s not really possible to understand Aion using examples of things in the mundane world, that is until you start to see how Aion is the place where our normal lives intersect these eternal cycles. To understand this, you have to be able to see where things like Campbell’s Monomyth/Hero’s Journey and Jung’s Collective Unconscious and Archetypes bleed over into reality. Part of the reason this may be difficult is due to the fact that the average American life in this day and age is anything but heroic, as we’ve tried as hard as possible as a culture to get rid of any shred of the notion that our lives should be somehow meaningful.

Of course, not everyone is destined to be a hero, and even if everyone theoretically was able, most people would not take up the journey anyway. That’s why we write stories about heroes and not people in cubicles- unless that’s somehow a prelude to heroism, which Aion is the quiet promise that it could be, that your life could be heroic, if you only believed in the part of you that still believes that.

Fundamentally, Aion is the adventure that Campbell says the Hero’s Journey begins with a call to adventure. When the time is right, via Kairos, we can be called to become more than we are and to take charge to enter the foreign that is Aion. In some sense, Aion is the underworld, but not the underworld as in the (weak and extremely modern) concept of Hell, it’s the underworld as in the mythic substructure of the mind and reality, the place where fairies, fae, and daemons, and the spirits of long dead ancestors and heroes reside. It’s the realm of the gods, of titans, angels, monsters and serpents.

“Of course, we’re modern, sensible people, so we don’t believe in anything so silly,” says Jim, age 44, from the comfort of his cubicle and dead end job, as he staples another stack of paper, freshly copied, and thinks about how it must be 5:00 somewhere.

In the past, we had social and cultural mechanisms by which to bring Aion into Chronos, via Kairos- to bring the sacred into the profane with the cultivated present. This is fundamentally the role which ritual plays, because in a proper ritual, you’re repeating a sacred cyclical action in the profane linear time, which, when the time is right, creates a bridge to the holy thing beyond our mundane experience. It’s very similar to the concept of flow, although I won’t go into that here.

Now, let’s go deeper.

I had a theory after boxing class one day (note- strenuous exercise is a great way to woo the muse) that is (yet another) approach to Eden, and what I think is fundamentally the reason that consciousness as we know it emerged.

Consciousness, in and of itself, is a prerequisite for understanding cause and effect.

Consciousness, as we experience it, is required to plan for the future.

The emergence of consciousness is the awareness of time.

Now, none of this is extremely new if you’ve read what I’ve written about Eden before, or my Theory of Everything, but that was a pretty big insight when I had it and I think it’s an easier way of putting a lot of complicated things I’ve talked about before. That’s how ideas work sometimes- you as a reader (and especially you who may be reading this in the far future) have the luxury of seeing all of my ideas from an outside perspective and can probably predict these simplifications better than I can.

Anyway, I digress. There are a lot of scientists and “intellectuals” who have made a concerted effort to write consciousness off as a fluke, or unnecessary side effect of some brain process, or somehow a horrible mistake (you get this more in the miserable religious types), or an illusion, or deception, or something that has nothing to do with free will, or whatever. All of these responses are in one way or another drawing from a deep hatred for life, reality, and consciousness itself. You wouldn’t write the fact that you have hands off as an illusion or deception, or some horrible mistake, because you (in most cases, I’d imagine) like having hands.

However, lots of people don’t like having consciousness and in fact go far out of their way to obliterate it with things like drugs, alcohol, daytime television, and jobs that require no critical thought, among other things. I’m guilty here too at times, so we can probably assume that everyone does this to some degree. The difference is that we love to disguise or deny our hatred for our own consciousness and the miserable, cosmic horror of innocence being dropped into the stream of time- basically all of these reduce down into “it’s not my fault, I’m not responsible for my life.”

What did I say just a bit ago, though? Consciousness is a prerequisite for understanding cause and effect, also called karma or causality, depending on your preference of flavor. Now, here’s an interesting bit- karma isn’t just cause and effect, it also has a moral element included, because the intention of the action is included in the concept, unlike in English/the west.

Ready to have your mind blown?

The Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then, represents the product of gaining the capacity to understand cause and effect, which has a moral element to it.

Eating the Fruit was the point when Man understood Chronos and entered Time.

This is why God says if Adam and Eve eat from the tree, they’re doomed to die, while the Serpent says they will not certainly die. What God is saying is that they’re going to have a concept of the future, and it’s the fact that we can conceptualize the future that we know at some day we will die. The Serpent, on the other hand, is being misleading by saying that “no, the fruit itself isn’t going to kill you right now,” because Eve has no concept of Time beyond the immediacy of the moment (permanent Karios, or some sort of precognitive Dreamtime state).

Here’s something critical to understand when conceptualizing Chronos (and part of the reason you should listen to the Parkway Drive song, aside from it being a stone cold banger)-

Chronos is represented as an old man with a sickle (later called Father Time)- he is the reaper of all harvests, and in time he cuts down all things. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is that our conception of the Grim Reaper draws from this, but I’m personally quite convinced. “In time, all will return to me,” as the understanding of Chronos is fundamentally the knowledge that one’s own death comes with certainty.

Chronos is inevitable.

However, there is one concept in Greek mythology that transcends all the others-

Ananke, which translates variously as “necessity, force, constraint, fate, or destiny,” is the feminine component of Chronos, and is considered to be the highest of all concepts- some modern translations make Ananke the “laws of nature.” There’s a poetic usage that says “even the gods don’t fight against Ananke.”

Ananke and her daughters, the Fates

Here’s where we go completely off the rails.

In Orphic mythology, at the dawn of time, Ananke emerges with Chronos in their true serpentine form, entwined and stretched across all being. From this primordial form, they come together and crush the cosmic egg of creation, which births the universe. If that’s not a very thinly veiled metaphor for DNA and life then I don’t know what is. (A note here that I tend to read all instances of entwined serpents as symbolic of DNA or life, re: The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby.)

Now, if we consider my Theory of Everything from The Meaning of AION,II, which suggests that DNA is fundamentally conscious on some level and is inextricably tied to time itself, then we start to see a fascinating picture of how time and the laws of the universe (and their serpentine origins) are the basis of all things. Ananke, of course, is also the mother of the Fates (Moirai), which makes sense, if fate is a consequence of the basal inevitability that reality has.

This brings us back to attractors, which I discussed in A Philosophy for Eternity. Attractors are a set state that a system that has rules governing it tends towards. For a less complex definition, here’s a fun metaphor:

In Hungry Hungry Hippos, even if we say that the game begins in a purely chaotic state (anyone could win, anything could happen), the fact that the game itself is built a certain way (ball-eating hippos) and has a distinct end goal (hippos eating the most balls) guarantees that, while there’s still chaos in the system (which hippo eats the most balls is unclear), the end will be inevitably either a hippo that eats a majority of the balls, or, wildcard, you flip the board over because your hippo didn’t eat enough balls.

In the same way, you can do whatever you want while playing chess, but assuming at least one person is playing to win, you’re going to end up with someone going after the king eventually. This, of course, raises the question of what the core attractors are in this great game we call life (which is marginally more complex than Hippos). The one that stands out to me as the greatest constraint is what I described in my ToE, the thermodynamic law concerning entropy. Another is “every action produces an equal, opposite reaction,” which is effectively the scientific equivalent of Karma. We could actually probably go through and find mythic and theological concepts that correspond to all of the physical laws, but I’m a broad generalist rather than an exhaustive specialist, so I trust that one of my future readers will take care of that.

There’s another inherent inevitability, which is- if you’re alive and want to continue living (and want life to continue beyond yourself) and have a consistent, integrated position on what that all means, you’re going to have to reproduce. I think this is why Ananke is the feminine component- it’s an ever-present inevitability contrasted against Chronos’ active reaping, but also why Ananke and Chronos are the serpentine pair that underlies and generates being. DNA underlies all of our being, and there’s a profundity to the eternal nature of the genetic dance that we are just a small part of.

Here’s an interesting thought- we like to think of the ego as some kind of mental construct, our fake idea of who we are which is somehow in opposition to who we really are. Most people get that, but what we don’t realize is that our notion of ourselves as “people” who are somehow distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom and are some kind of unique thing in the world is the real ego. What you really are is a collection of self-replicating amino acids that has become self-aware, but you think you’re just the awareness and not the entire thing. You think you’re just a person, when in reality you’re the entire chain of acids.

What is this ego, then?

The ego is the pseudo-self constructed as a result of our entrance into Chronos-time. We have a memory of who we were and a concept of who we might be, and a sense of continuity between the two. Now, this isn’t pseudo in the sense that it’s not real, it’s just fundamentally limited and not a complete self concept. I will note that I’m using the term ego a bit differently than I traditionally do when distinguishing between petty ego and Ego Proper.

In the most broad sense, the ego here is your very constrained and limited idea of who your are, which is made of the two things I normally differentiate between, the petty ego (transitory things: thoughts-feelings-opinions-ideas-beliefs) and the Ego Proper (things that are consistent over time: personality and experiences). The True Self is one of the fundamental realities here, as that does not change at all and is not impacted by any conception of ego, though we like to analyze it through the ego.

Now, let’s go all the way to the extreme.

I would guess, although I cannot know this for certain (and I don’t think anyone could ever know this for certain), that the True Self (“is-ness,” pure consciousness, awareness, “the watcher,” “the observer,” that which has the quality of being,) is fundamentally indestructible, as my Theory of Everything argues that consciousness is an innate property of reality as we know it. There is a lot of esoterica and mysticism that tends to agree, although that’s not generally the sort of evidence I’d use to make a compelling case. This is going to be pure speculation, so just roll with me here, but here’s my theory as to how that would work.

Imagine, if you will, an enormous tree. This tree stretches from the very beginning of time, all the way to the end, beginning at the first point and ending at the other, but in between there are a near-infinite multitude of branches.

Now, imagine these branches are in some way constructed from DNA.

Because we’re in the flow of time, we’re constrained as the observer of consciousness moving through these branches, and our choices determine which way we move through the forking routes of the tree. We don’t get to see the tree in its completeness, we only see where we are at the moment, as we move in one direction through it.

However, beneath the roots of the tree and above the top of its highest branch is the place outside of time- this is Aion, the mythical, nontemporal state where all is one. Here, the rules likely don’t apply, as all we know about rules is how they apply inside of time, and also our concept of knowing in and of itself is tied to the temporal as well. We experience time as this linear thing, but time is relative to us, so I’d imagine that if we could remove ourself from the flow, everything would be a single, perfect moment where everything is happening, has happened, and will happen again, forever. If there is a “one true God,” it would be that, the sum totality of all being.

Because this perfect moment is outside of time and time is a component of what we call life, we could make the (slightly tongue-in-cheek) argument that this God is in fact dead (though not in the way you’d think), or at least, you’d have to be dead (or otherwise outside of the flow of time) to access it, which seems to be what high-dose psychedelics and extreme meditative states are imitating- a near-death state. The interesting part of this then becomes that death is something that applies to the body and the body’s ego, meaning your conception of what you are as an individual, while the “is-ness” that is what you truly are is indestructible.

This may be something that’s beyond any use in explaining, because you cannot read this and understand it in the way that you can read and understand that 2+2 is 4. This requires you to have a fairly in-depth understanding of the nature of your Self, as well as the observer and the ego. Be very cautious in any assumption that I have explained this correctly, because a misstep here for either of us would have disastrous consequences. Remember that this is all speculation, and this is also my operating on the assumption that my Theory of Everything is correct and that I’ve extrapolated from it correctly. All men are fallible, use your own judgement and accept nothing blindly.

Now, remember the whole God is Dead bit? This is a really, really fascinating take on some of that. In Greek mythology, you actually have two figures that are sometimes the same figure, Chronos, who we know already, and Cronus, the father of Zeus. Cronus is known for castrating his father, Uranus, who was the ruler of the universe, and from his dangly bits sprung the Furies, the Giants, the Melinae, and Aphrodite. This is interesting in its own right, but when you think about how in Norse myth, the corpse of Ymir (the original Jotnar, or giant) is fashioned by Odin and his brothers into the components of the world, it gets interesting.

This is a recurring theme in myth- the notion that some sort of paternal figure kills his own father in the generative patricide, and from this, the world is formed. What’s really fascinating here is the idea that the world is wrought from the corpse itself- if God is dead (meaning not amongst the living, meaning outside of time), then our temporal journey could be likened to be occurring within the corpse itself. The temporal universe is made of this perfect singular moment that is the non-temporal Aion state, but murdered and cut by Chronos (linear time) into the world we inhabit.

In a bit of an oblique play on this, we can actually make an argument that Christ’s death on the cross was also something like a patricide, though before you jump to conclusions as to what I mean by that, let me explain. The pre-Christ, Old Testament God was something like the inculcation of culture into a figure. When Christ claims himself as divine, he then embodies the culture, and in his death, he lets that part of the culture die.

He became God to kill God, in a sense, and in doing so, also replaced the cultural concept of the jealous God of the Old Testament with the “God is Love” of the New Testament. Because he was the one who did the killing, he also got to fashion the world anew from the corpse, and it’s largely due to the influence of Christianity that the modern western world is formed.

Note that if you’re reading this as some literal statement about divinities, you’ve misunderstood me, and if you’re reading this as a theological argument, you’re wrong. I have to say this all the time because I know someone’s going to give me shit about it eventually, but largely what I’m doing here is speaking in metaphor to the best of my ability.

These parallels exist between myths because the myths go deeper than simply stories, they’re metaphors built on the attractors that come from the innate nature of Man and his experience in this world. Archetypes are the inevitable extremes of human behavior- heroes and villains, dragons and treasures, wise old men and cripple kings, as we tend toward the same stories over and over.

Aion becomes the eternal story, told in many tongues and many lands, at different points in Chronos-time, and every now and then, you and I are called by Kairos into action, when we come to realize that these legendary heroics are something that we, too, can embody. The mundanity of life that we’re plagued by exists because we’ve lost all connection to the deeper realities of Aion-time, the place where meaning lives, just beyond the border of the known.

Go forth, and seek it.

Towards the Age of Truth, unending,

‘till the end of Time.

Garrett Dailey

Garrett Dailey is a formerly homeless D.I.Y. philosopher who believes that one cannot understand the universe without first understanding themselves. To that end, he has committed to a lifelong journey to become the best version of himself, and in the process, create a community for others who wish to do the same. May we all be led from ignorance to the truth. Pros aion Aletheia aionios.

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