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. 

Kore and the Parthenogenesis of Psychological Androgyny

There is a self-contained certainty in the hermaphroditism of Dionysus that reminds me of the Kore—the just-so status of each is not given or attained but rather exists psycho-parthenogenetically. So the first thing to internalize is that the dual consciousness, the hermaphroditic bisexual androgyny preexists in Dionysus consciousness. And yet, remarkably, Dionysus is also the dismembered one, the repressed one, the regressive one. So there is the suggestion that inner (divine) nature, the nature that is given with life, the one-ness or non-duality of psyche, is perhaps also the cause of wounding dismemberment, the cause of regressive repressions. Or is it that by repressing this oneness and dividing it into opposites that painful dismemberment occurs? After all, why do the Titans lure Dionysus specifically of all the divine babies in creation? Is it because he is undivided? 

The complexity of Dionysus knows no bounds. I’m beginning to see what James Hillman meant when he said that the image goes on and on, forever. Because even after the dismemberment, his androgyny is still intact. Again, it reminds me of the intactness, the un-consumable virginity, of the Kore—nothing can dislodge it, not even tragedy. But then, why the female-only worshipers, why the tragic emotions, the madness and the hysteria? If original selfhood is forever intact, why the necessity for psychic agitators? I think the answer lies in the fact that the state of psychological androgyny preexists yet remains unavailable to consciousness without an experience in the body of tragic emotions. Dionysus is still a baby when he is dismembered and an androgynous god later in life, after the violence of Titanism is experienced. This shows the psychological necessity of emotional madness, why ever and anon we must undergo painful periods of psychic dismemberment before we can return once again to a space of equilibrium.