C. G. Jung

Ever Deeper Core of Meaning

Myths . . . are accessible collective narratives containing densely coded symbols and archetypes that can awaken stage-specific dynamic interplay between instinct and archetype.

—Maren T. Hansen, An evaluation case study of a myth class to stimulate identity development for early adolescents

     C. G. Jung taught that images are spontaneous irruptions from the deep psyche that can manifest in a variety of forms which are not limited only to visual images but can also appear as emotions, thoughts, fantasies, and daydreams. These psychic products are furthermore symbolic, meaning they contain hidden knowledge which the psyche is attempting to convey to the conscious sphere, whether this conscious sphere is that of an individual's or that of an entire society. In the context of “densely coded” symbolic images being conveyed to an entire society, the imaginal language of films, books, poems, fairy tales, myths, and a variety of visual and performing art forms such as music, dance, and religious ritual allow us to sound the depths of the psyche in order to understand the messages it has for us. 

     What we have learned during our course is that these symbolic images are imaginal stand-ins for the immense variety of psychological experiences we encounter during the span of one lifetime. Each image—whether it’s an overwhelming irruption of sorrow, a nasty moment of jealousy, or a drawn picture of a caged bird—is a symbol which represents an inner psychological event. Usually, the images that are spontaneously produced and the images we are drawn to at any given moment are reflective of the current cycle of psychological growth and development while throughout the vast pantheon of imaginal material produced by the human psyche we find images and narratives that tell the story of different stages of psychological experience. These are then grouped into types of myth and types of books and types of art, all of which reflect certain psychological and archetypal characteristics and processes. 

     All of us are living our lives from within the inner parameters of these different psychological cycles so that the stories in myths and fairytales, and their counterparts found in the art world and especially in the world of films, can help us to identify which stage we are in. These stage-specific narratives thus contain a great deal of information for how best to navigate that particular section of the psychological road. The overall goal, at least according to countless myths and fairytales, and according to depth psychology, is individuation, which is the process whereby the sphere of consciousness and the much larger and more powerful sphere of the unconscious form a symbiotic harmony, what has been termed the Ego/Self axis. This harmony is only achieved at a great price, namely, the price of enduring great psychological disharmony and suffering, for it is the continual defeat of the ego in the face of the much larger and transpersonal powers of the unconscious that slowly polishes the soul into a vibrant jewel. The quest for individuation and the seemingly never-ending obstacles faced on this quest are often symbolized in the myth of the hero’s journey, most notably articulated by mythologist Joseph Campbell. 

     My vocation—the calling of my soul—is to become a theoretical archetypal psychologist and a scholar. For me, the application of learned material to my own psychological life for the purpose of psychic research and to gain an ever deeper knowledge of the intricate and mysterious workings of the psyche is of paramount importance. In this sense, knowing the way myths and fairytales and films identify inner dynamics and show them to us through the use of symbolic images is of immense value. In this course, I have learned that images are not only symbolic but that they carry a moving, dynamic core of meaning which, when deciphered, explodes open our usual narrow ego perspectives.

And so, onward!

The Spiral Stairwell

     I think it’s a fundamental characteristic in the study of archetypal psychology that can never be repeated enough, an aspect that is so easy to forget or misunderstand, and that is that mythical images are the psyche, or as Jung succinctly put it, “image is psyche” (Jung, 1929/1967, p. 54, CW13 para. 75). This means that an image of a god or goddess, together with any and all imaginal accouterments they carry or are adorned by as well as the events and dramas of their lives are all psyche. These images are not some separate reality that we study from a position outside of psyche. Both the images and our interactions with them (whether these interactions are scholarly, mythopoetic, ritualistic, or actively imaginal) are psyche. So when we study the gods and goddesses, as in this course, for example, those from the Greek pantheon, we are studying psyche itself. The gods and goddesses and the dramatic narratives of their lives thus portray the life of the psyche—its way of living (Rossi, 2019). 

     As we know from our studies thus far, the psyche is composed of conscious and unconscious spheres, the latter being the larger and more powerful of the two. Indeed, Jung thought that the conscious sphere is surrounded on all sides by the unconscious in the same way that a lit candle in a dark room is surrounded on all sides by impenetrable darkness. Yet this mysterious and humongous surrounding space is dynamic and alive. In its fathomless depths, amorphous numinous entities—psychological energy patterns—roam and rule. These archetypes carry specific programs which affect the way we live our lives since they can powerfully influence our consciousness. Intrinsically unknowable, the archetypes appear through symbolic images in myths, dreams, and fantasies so that a personified and recognizable narrative alerts us to the hidden workings of the deep psyche. The gods and goddesses thus exhibit these psychological systems at work in the collective unconscious and show us how they are actively influencing our day to day lives. If we can understand the patterns of behavior that reflect these inner psychic workings, we can better comprehend the deeper and often hidden significance of life events, rites of passage, big ideas such as love and hate, massive social affairs like war and peace, and, of course, the deepest mysteries of the human soul. 

     In this course, I have learned that the movements of goddesses and gods and the movements of the psyche are one and the same thing so that when I study these divinities I am in effect studying myself. Not myself in a personal sense but rather the self in me which is psyche—the parts of “me” that are rooted in and informed by broader spheres of consciousness, which are, in fact, all of me since it has been made abundantly clear by almost all mystical wisdom traditions that the experience of a separate self is just a trick of the mind. In this labyrinthine way, the study of archetypal divinities becomes a moving spiral stairwell (heading in both directions simultaneously) which leads to self-knowledge. 

     Since my vocation involves one day becoming an archetypal psychologist and scholar, this course has been vitally essential. Our in-depth study of the works of archetypal psychologists such as Ginette Paris, Christine Downing, Rafael Lopez-Pedraza, Patricia Berry, James Hillman, and others has taught me how to look deeply into the often ambivalent and contradictory nature of archetypal images, particularly as they are embodied in the characters from Greek mythology. I’ve learned that archetypal spaces and locations are also “persons" and that all mythical narratives can best be understood through the use of metaphor and simile. Above all else, for me, there is tremendous value in understanding the workings of the psyche so that I can touch the deeper dimensions of life, particularly its divine nature—which is to say, the coursework this term has brought me closer to an understanding of what it means to face the gods. 

Earth-Born Kore

If we think of the psyche as an internal polis, Athene can be seen as the force which seeks to civilize the contents. Despite her status as Parthenos goddess, she is uniquely qualified to enact this civilizing potential through her relational aspects which differ from other virgin goddesses—Athene is the protectress of ordered relationship. Within herself, she contains and holds, not only herself but the potential for constraint and mastery of the strictly held and strategic moment. Like Kore, Athene shares space with Necessity for all three are self-contained in their inherent psychological directness. All three goddess images dwell within themselves, and are, on one level, entirely whole and implacable. Athene’s self-contained and armored wisdom is crafty with an ability to weave various strands and impulses into “a whole fabric” just “as her own person is a combination of Reason and Necessity” (Hillman, 2016, p. 66). She uses strategy, craftiness, and intelligence to redirect (through persuasive rhetoric) the chaos and irrationality of the psyche into a recognizable, satisfying, and cohesive integration where each piece has its clearly defined and necessary place. 

And yet Athene cannot stand goatish Dionysus, cannot abide sensual Aphrodite, is in constant warfare with Poseidon and his inherent depth, and smothers the fires of Ares with her measured tempo. Her urge toward order and civilized containment, her bridling of the wild horse, can be seen as its own shadow since it tends to circumnavigate the intrinsic and necessary wilderness of psychic regions where the necessity of chaos gives birth to new and unruly life. There is also Jane Ellen Harrison’s rather convincing critique about Athene’s negation of the mother as expressed in the manner of her birth which Harrison calls “a desperate theological expedient to rid an earth-born Kore of her matriarchal conditions” (Harrison, 1991, P. 302). 

Hillman, J. (2016). Mythic figures. The uniform edition of the writings of James Hillman, Vol. 6. Putnam, CT: Spring. 

Harrison, J. E. (1991). Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

A Psychology of Perspective, A Look of Love

In Re-Visioning Psychology (1975), Hillman wrote that archetypal psychology is a psychology of perspective (p. xvi) and it encourages a special sort of vision—a metaphorical, mythic vision that generates universal meaning and insight. This sort of I-sight opens “the questions of life to transpersonal and culturally imaginative reflection” (Hillman, 2013, p. 28) leading us to that mode of perception “which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic and metaphorical” (Hillman, 1975, p. xvi). Accordingly, myths are the I-sight of the archetypal perspective, “they open” (Hillman, 2013, p. 28) vistas of imaginative meaning, just as the lens of a camera opens to allow for more abundance and possibilities in the total composition. This vision is different from the monotheistic attitude which primarily enjoys classifying mythic images into categories that give each archetype one face, one direction, one value. 

A good example is the invigorating discussion of Mary in Paris’s Pagan Grace (1990). The monotheistic perspective places her in a limited role of passive mother who subserviently acquiesces to the brutal sacrifice of her son by the angry Fathers. In contrast, Paris explains how Demeter, as a mature woman Goddess with full powers, answers good with good and evil with evil—when her daughter is stolen, she rebels and doesn’t budge so Zeus acquiesces to her. Here we have metaphorical perspectives on universals of mothering, womanhood, and religion that open the imagination to reflection. I’m reminded of American Christian mothers who send their sons to die in wars, mothers who can’t stand up for their kids, won’t fight a corrupt system, who are conditioned to let their young be slaughtered in senseless wars, and how much this fits the mythic pattern of Mary as described by Paris (p. 38). Mary as fantasy and metaphor thus points to a relevant and modern cultural reality in need of tending. Both mothers are sad to lose a child, but the myths help us reimagine appropriate responses. 

Hillman, J. (1975) Re-visioning psychology. New York, NY: Harper & Row. 

Hillman, J. (2013). Archetypal psychology. The uniform edition of the writings of James Hillman, Vol. 1. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications. 

Paris, G. (1990). Pagan grace. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications. 

One Ring To Rule Them All

Lord of the Rings (1954) presents a multivalent universe of characters, ideas, and myths—it is quintessentially polytheistic. But what about Sauron? He is a man with one plan, one vision (the single eye), one definition, one idea—one ring. The others have many rings and plans and lands and insignia and cultural bents. The others are all different, with different histories, different proclivities, different physiognomies, foods, customs, and traditions, a veritable archetypal panoply. But Sauron wants to rule over them, bring them all together and “in the darkness bind them.” Why? Because “the logic of monotheism attempts to override” particularities; it focusses on “a single and empty abstraction that can contain all things” (Hillman, 2013, p. 157). Sauron wants to obliterate the multiplicities and replace them with the one vision. This is the way of the ego, too, in each of our lives. 

The danger of literalizing transforms a mother complex vis a vis the son, enforcing a degeneration of puer consciousness into the overcoming/subservient hero/ego. The mother as Great Goddess when made literal becomes the monotheistic complex, the one drive (one ring to rule them all) that defines all subsequent behavior. Yet the son, the hero, the puer, and the mother each contain and point to multitudes of possibilities for “the archetypes do not so much rule realms of being as they, like the gods, rule all at once and together the same realm of being” (Hillman, 2013, p. 127). There can simply be no son, hero, puer, or mother existing independently from one another. They coexist simultaneously as do all the gods, all the complexes, all the afflictions. Attributing values to archetypes is a fantasy of the ego (p. 111) and serves to dislocate the vision of experience inside a relic consciousness now solidified because of being “condemned to a single view” (p. 127). 

Hillman, J. (2013). Archetypal psychology. Uniform edition of the writings of James Hillman vol. 1. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications. 

Hillman, J. (2013). Senex and puer. Uniform edition of the writings of James Hillman vol. 5. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.