Archetypal Psychology

The Function of Images

An area of interest that has captured my attention this term has to do with the autonomy of the unconscious and the power it wields over us through its images. I had not considered before what the function of images might be, I had just accepted that images are spontaneously produced by the unconscious and that they are its language. But this term, I have learned about the function of images which, to me, seems an important point that deserves emphasis. 

As we know, in depth psychology images are emanations that spontaneously irrupt from the deep psyche. They take a variety of forms including text, creative expression, or even emotions and intuitions. They come at us in our dreams, they come at us in thought formations and fantasies, and they come at us through art, literature, poetry, and dance. The question is, why? Why do these images come at us at all and what are we to do with them? Jung says that the images hold a measure of libido or psychic energy and that they use this energy for their own specific purposes. Furthermore, since autonomous, the images prioritize their own needs above the needs of the ego complex. Our task is to, first of all, allow the images to exist and then to experience and interact with them on their own level—the imaginal level (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 346). The images wield tremendous power over consciousness. They hold this power down in the unconscious and we must interact with the images in order to gain access to that power. In other words, images are libido—they are psychic energy. Which means that our lives as we know them rely upon images for their existence since without energy there can only be psychic entropy—a catatonic state of total inertia. This explains the sometimes overbearing urgency of images and why they often harass us until we meet them on their own terms. They know something we don’t. 

Another interesting feature of images is that they hold a specific message or quality having to do with the situation of the individual who is encountering them. Jung explained that the unconscious is the feminine side of consciousness and that it insists upon a feeling function to restore psychic balance since the ego’s rational and intellectual perspective is usually too one-sided (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 216). The images are thus emissaries of this mission to restore psychological balance and they, therefore, wear outward forms which are most relevant to the individual’s specific issues. Furthermore, psychic balance is not always just a matter of correcting pathological or unwanted psychological manifestations. It is also a matter of individuation, which is to say, a matter of bringing the two spheres of consciousness into proper alignment so that the individual ends up living a life that feels richly endowed with meaning and purpose. The images thus have secret knowledge to impart and play a serious role in the psyche.

Jung further explained that we cannot simply stand back and passively watch the images and hope to understand, much less effect, their meanings, for the images are autonomous, they have a level of unconcern we must contend with. If we hope to access the knowledge they contain we must interact with them actively on the imaginal level, which is to say, inside the image itself, inside the fantasy, inside the dream (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 350). Jung said that by actively participating with the images we “gain possession of them by allowing them to possess” (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 368) us. This method, which Jung called active imagination, makes it possible for an individual to not only experience but also to interact, in a waking state, with the unconscious—to merge with it. In so doing, access is gained to the hidden and secret knowledge of the images and the deeper predilections breeding in the psychological volcanoes of our souls. Without access to this restorative imaginal knowledge, we remain divided, stunted, and incomplete, making titanic blunders as we continue to live a one-sided, egocentric life.  

Jung, C. G. (1966). The relations between the ego and the unconscious (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 7, 2nd ed., pp.  121–241). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1928)

Forgive My French

It was pointed out in the lecture how Jung was deeply conflicted within himself about studying the extents of the psyche as if Jung’s own psyche were stretched outward and inward simultaneously. This reminded me of Grof’s description of the dual tendencies of Cosmic Consciousness. “The overall scheme of the cosmic drama involves a dynamic interplay of two fundamental forces, one of which is centrifugal (hylotropic, or matter oriented) and the other centripetal (holotropic, or aiming for wholeness) in relation to the creative principle” (Grof, 2000, p. 289). Perhaps Jung’s inability to square this circle within himself indicates the interplay of these two contrary yet fundamental cosmic principles at work. 

To my mind, Grof’s work illustrates perfectly the various parameters and capabilities of psychospiritual growth while also providing spiritual validity for the existence of material reality. His overview of the humor-filled co-creative love affair between existence and nonexistence, form and formlessness, psyche and matter is the most cogent definition of spirituality I have ever read. It encapsulates and validates the essence of many complimentary spiritual traditions and rings immediately true—like a great cosmic gong—on the “inner” level. I am particularly impressed that his findings are based on decades of experiential research. 

As a longtime seeker and practitioner of spiritual self-exploration, I intuitively resonate with the many ways in which Grof validates the ontological truth of so-called “magical” experiences. I am also convinced by his elucidation of archetypal realms and cosmic propensities as inherently intimate and personal impulses which open the doors to ultimate reality and “Absolute Consciousness.” It all makes perfect sense to those parts of me unhindered by the “skin-bound ego” tragedy. 

I can think of nothing more exciting and potentially liberating than the truth of a transpersonal objective psyche. Fuck the ego and its ignoble pettiness. 

The Source Of Power

It is such a fascinating time to be answering this question since I have been wrestling with the intersecting contours of power, wisdom, and magic for some time. My life has been marked by a level of power and innate capability that has almost scared me sometimes. I surfed 20-foot waves and studied Kung Fu and built giant canvasses and lugged heavy stuff around, all so I would have an outlet for my power. It isn’t just that I am physically stronger than most girls, it’s that I also seem to have been born with a higher tolerance for pain. 

Since earliest childhood, I’ve had an ability to see things in people’s faces and body language that they aren’t aware of conveying—a sudden rush of anger behind the eyes, a secret fear in the hunched shoulders. I embody a magician, a wise but stern goddess, and a fun-loving puella. Over time, my terrifying complexes and my shadow grew more and more powerful and took over so that all that power got misused. For a time, I became cruel and dark and seriously negative. 

When I discovered mythology and depth psychology, I found a psychospiritual roadway complete with signposts and maps which helped me to make sense of my inner world and to connect with the magical source of power that had been my constant companion. This road led through creepy towns like Hatred and Fear and Evil, yet the map pointed also to where Freedom and Liberation were located. My dreams showed me the way, too—they gave me little gold stars every time I got something right. 

Now I know that the powerful magician within me likes it when I use her magic to make beauty and love. She also knows that I bow before her each day, awestruck. 

Self Portrait With Doom

A sense of being doomed, or at least surrounded by an essence of doom, has been my constant psychospiritual companion, even since very early childhood. This doom was something I learned to abide in without really knowing why or what it was about. Now, as I reexamine myself through the lens of depth psychology, I understand what the fairy tale story about a princess locked away in a tower by an evil sorceress is all about. 

The sorceress is my own shadow grown immensely powerful and autonomous. She doesn’t care that her existence came about against my will. She doesn’t care that Mother and Father and Culture are to blame. Until I own up to her, she won’t let me out of the tower. 

Last night, She came to me two-faced. One nice girl and one hateful girl—the three of us discussing the ocean on Maui. The hateful girl had her arms crossed tightly. It took all her might to be nice to me (through gritted teeth). The other told me I already had the magic beaded necklace, I didn’t need her to give me hers. 

I think of my father—a coward who can’t speak the truth. A coward who is jealous of his own daughter, a father would rather tear me to shreds than become aware of his own weaknesses. 

“You’re a despicable evil lying thief!” I cry out. 

“Yes, I am those things,” I reply to myself. 

I own it. 

This is no longer about Him or Her or Them. It is about Me and Us, in here—deep in the darkness with my ghouls and demons and utter creeps, snuggled together, sleeping peacefully as the doors and windows of the tower open up wide to let in the moonlight. 

Come Doom, and welcome. 

Starry Heavens Above Me, The Moral Law Within

Phantoms are limited in terms of essential access to Platonic Forms which explains why they are so pale and ephemeral. There seems to be a line or a graph of sorts. On one end stands phenomenal reality, manifest in all its material glory, and on the other, ideational mistiness (not even substantial enough to be called ghostlike) that is abstract, mathematical, and intuited in the mind-realm only. Ironically, the former depends upon the latter for its existence: the immaterial is the form-giver while the form itself is empty of any real substance. Yet the two ends of the graph are inexorably intertwined, like the infinity symbol. For example, what is the difference between a tree in a dream and a tree in the garden? Answer: there is no difference, both arise from the creative force of the phantom Form. 

Manifested physical glory regards itself as primary and absolute. It becomes personally invested in itself, forgetting that it is not only a mere representation of something else but also that its very existence depends upon this forgotten other. Symbolically, material existence is the father who yet lives. Forgetting the source necessitates remembering and sets up the need for realization and “the development of a more objective, transcendent view” (Tarnas, 1991, p. 161). After all, without delusion, there would be no need for realization. 

Plato, Kant, and Jung all say the same thing: there is a preexisting order upon which the validity of all perception depends. Furthermore, it is not just perception (real or imagined) but the very existence of objects and even ideas about those objects (whether the object is the subject or vice versa) which have their ultimate source in this phantom realm of ideational mistiness. Without the fire of the source, not even phantoms can claim existence. 

Divine Intervention

The psyche is the world’s pivot: not only is it the one great condition for the existence of the world at all, it is also an intervention in the existing natural order, and no one can say with certainty where this intervention will finally end. CW8, para. 423

Our course, C. G. Jung in Context begins with this evocative and far-reaching quote from the man himself. Here, Jung is saying that without the psyche existence would be moot and that manifestations of movement, change, evolution, would likewise be absent. The psyche is the pivot, the axis, and the driving force which generates the ongoing project of life. Accordingly, the psyche and its numinous inhabitants—the archetypes—draw consciousness into being making life itself a reality. However, it is the “intervention” of the psyche into “the existing natural order" of life that fascinates me the most about this quote. It reminds me of Jung’s definition of God from an interview he gave to Good Housekeeping Magazine in December 1961, just before his death:

To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse. (n.p.)

Here and in his other writings, Jung essentially equates the psyche (conscious and unconscious, personal and collective) with God—God, the creator, and God, the destroyer. Jung warns that God is not our stooge to be used by us for wish fulfillment, revenge, or derivation of power. Rather, it is a word representing an awesome, autonomous, and not always friendly power under whose ambivalent, unknowable influence we find ourselves, again and again. This knowledge is significant for me personally since I am living the life of a spiritual seeker. Looking for, and ultimately finding God is my job, my vocation. What is unique in Jung’s view is the admission that God is not necessarily our friend. God is not here to save us or rescue us or satisfy our wishes or make us shine. God has a dark side, a vengeful side. Furthermore, this God is none other than our own psychospiritual level of existence. We contain, no, we—are—God.

This course also taught me an important lesson about the dangers of hero worship. By examining the psychic effects of a constellated child archetype in relation with the puella aeternis, and by studying the various attributes of Jung’s personal life and times, I was able to see how I was worshipping him a bit, in the way a young girl might blindly worship her father. During this course, I was able to significantly shift my inner perceptions about the father archetype which led to a graduation from the grips of the wounded inner child, who is, after all, the shadow side of the hero archetype, my unconscious default position.

Jung has said that archetypes evolve, myths evolve, and, through the long step by step process of individuation, ideally, the whole person also evolves. There is an image of growth one can hold onto along the way. This course taught us to examine the idea of a personal myth and self-presentation, not just in how Jung presents himself in his writings, but also how we present ourselves in the many areas of life (including the dreamworld) in which we gambol about. The boundaries between self and other, personal and collective, dream and reality, are much more permeable than we’ve been led to believe. Permeability thus connects personal with archetypal using threads of psychic intelligence—they inform one another and grow together. One’s life and one’s myth are archetypal images which grow and evolve, just as ideas about Jung as a womanizing antisemitic racist permeate and grow with ideas of him as a genius explorer of parts unknown. Learning to put Jung in context helps bring a sense of objectivity to one’s own life as well. The psyche is a divine intervention, and this lessens the potential for boredom in objectivity. After all, what can be more exciting than watching God at work?

Us And Them

In his essay, “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man,” Jung called being “unhistorical” the ultimate “Promethean sin.” (Jung, 1931/1970, p. 69 CW 10 para. 153). In other words, a great deal of hubris lurks in the fateful untethering of individual, culture, and psyche from the grounding fecundity of history and tradition.

There are similarities between this idea and the one-sided promotion of individuality which unfolded in the social structures of the last few centuries. The division between self and other found literally in the separation of rich from poor, black from white, male from female; spiritually, in the extreme segregation between man and nature; and psychologically, in the way the “mentally able” were privileged over sensitive dissenters, is in direct proportion to the power of the state to control and manipulate. After all, united we stand, divided we fall.

Abandoning a holistic, multifaceted approach in favor of strict individualism destroyed many possibilities for social equality across all frontiers. This loss of wholeness clearly gave rise to the dominant neurotic features of today’s individual psyche, neuroses which are now “. . . accepted as fact and product of modern existence . . . ” (Jansz, 2004, p. 121). The collective psyche is now chained to the rocks where each day its liver is eaten out by a rabid bird—even, perhaps, by “the Aryan bird of prey” (Jung, 1931/1970, p. 80 CW 10 para. 190), reincarnated and embodied today in Global Corporate Consumer Capitalism. We are unconsciously paying for the hubris of self-obsessive individualization—devoured alive each day by our fears and anxieties.

Unfortunately, "psychology firmly fixed widespread beliefs about the fundamental inequality of races” (Jansz, 2004, p. 180), and appears to have been weaponized for furthering destructive attitudes, adding fuel to the fire of “Us versus Them,” and helping to justify policies of imperialism.

Thank goodness for depth psychology!

Jansz, J. & van Drunen, P. (2004). A social history of psychology. Blackwell Publishing. Malden: MA.

Jung, C. G. (1970). The spiritual problem of modern man (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 10, 2nd ed., pp. 74-94). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1931)