Spirituality

The Religious Psyche

By entering the imagination we cross into numinous precincts. And from within this territory all events in the soul require religious reflection. 

James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, p. 226

     Archetypal Psychology is ultimately a religious project since its primary concern is for the soul and its relationship with the Gods. Hillman’s (1975) conception locates soul in a nonhuman realm where it is more of a perceptive quality rather than an object or substance. Furthermore, this perceptive quality of soul is self-reflective—it differentiates, mediates, communicates; it imaginates, congregates, and “deepens events into experiences” (p. xvi). As a perceptive functionality, soul is inseparable from image. It is a visionary and myth-making activity that experiences itself “through dream, image, and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realties as primarily symbolic or metaphorical” (p. xvi). Jung also placed high value on images and their function in the psyche. Indeed, Jung said that “image is psyche” (Jung, 1929/1967, p. 54, CW13 para. 75) and Hillman follows Jung by confirming the monumental purpose of images in human psychology. Both men argue that images are the primary data of psychic life where soul is image and image is soul. Therefore understanding the nature of image would lead to a deeper understanding of not just the nature of soul, but also its needs and requirements. 

     Turning to the word “archetypal” which qualifies Hillman’s psychology is already a move toward images since archetypes themselves are inherently inscrutable and intrinsically unknowable so that there can be no conception or experience of an archetype without an image. Images are the language of the archetypes and if “image is psyche” then archetypes are psyche, too. An archetype brings a particular style of perception or a pattern into which experience can flow and grow into an intelligible psychological metaphor. So an archetypal perspective is a soulful and imaginative perspective. 

     Through overpowering numinous images, archetypes seize the soul and induce psychic action which then sensuously unwinds itself into a longwinded drama with countless actors and as many acts. These archetypal events are metaphor, myth, and story that take place in what Corbin (1972) has called the mundus imaginalis—a world of “celestial spheres” and “mystical cities” located between “the empirical world and the world of abstract intellect” (p. 7). Because of their residence in this celestial yet ontologically real nonhuman sphere, archetypes are imagined by Hillman as veritable Gods, and since they are innumerable, Hillman conceives of psyche as essentially polytheistic. Gods and the archetypal images they inhabit are perceived and experienced through imaginal stories and metaphors of the psyche, thus they allow the soul to make and experience itself. This process of soul-making is the primary concern of archetypal psychology. 

     For Hillman, the human being is inside the psyche, not the other way around. Therefore the most urgent work of life is to awaken to the inherent divinity of our souls—to internalize external reality and transmute it into metaphorical, imaginal, and symbolical reality which is the only reality the soul can recognize. The literal events of everyday life must be taken inward to the soul’s realm where they are transformed into the myths and dramas and stories of our polytheistic souls and their archetypal patterns. Archetypes are the root metaphors of the psyche and give it its flow and direction, they are the ideas of the soul, tools with which it weaves itself into illustrious or tragic patterns. Without this procedure we are left with nothing but the literal world of “history, society, clinical psychopathology, or metaphysical truths” (Hillman, 1975, p. 128) and these literalized aspects of external life are alien to the soul and naturally cause alienation and harm. Archetypal psychology therefore encourages us to “recollect the Gods in all psychological activity” (p. 226). Through the imaginative function we can realize that we are made of the nonhuman stuff of the soul and that this nonhuman stuff is essentially divine. This is the work of soul-making. 

Corbin, H. (1972). Mundus imaginalis or the imaginary and the imaginal. Spring: An annual journal on Archetypal Psychology and Jungian thought. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications. 

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

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)