Dreaming the Myth Forward: Jungian Neopaganism

Carl Jung's ideas have been influencing the development of Neopaganism from its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. But what if Jung's ideas have been misunderstood by many Pagans: literalized on the one hand and oversimplified on the other? What fresh insights can a Jungian Nepaganism contribute to Pagan discourse and practice today? And might Jungianism serve as a bridge between the earth-centered and deity-centered Pagan communities?

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John Halstead

John Halstead

John discovered Jungianism and Neopaganism at the same time through the writings of Vivianne Crowley, Margot Adler, and Starhawk, and the two have remained intertwined for him ever since.  John is the managing editor at HumaniticPaganism.com, a community blog for Naturalistic Pagans. He also writes about his spiritual quest on his blog The Allergic Pagan (www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/), where he explores his personal religious history, Paganism, UUism, and Jungianism.

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Before I talk about tarot as a Jungian Neo-Pagan practice, I want to take a time out and share some of my favorite tarot decks with you.

Mary-El Tarot by Marie White

My absolutely favorite deck is the Mary-El Tarot.  I waited literally years for Marie White to finish this deck.  It is non-traditional and based on White's own fantastic oil paintings.  I could stare at the art of any one of these cards for a long time.  I think the Death and World cards below are especially lovely.  If I had more space, I would have included several of the Minor Arcana cards as well.  

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  • Danielle Aubenque
    Danielle Aubenque says #
    I too have the original Vertigo deck and it's my personal deck. I have the Geiger and Black tarot too. I use Crow's Magic for read

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Before I discuss tarot as a form of Jungian Pagan practice, I want, in this post, to give a little background about how I approach tarot.  

b2ap3_thumbnail_f10-0413-tarot-deck-inset.jpgTarot, for anyone who does not know, is a deck of cards that derives from a mid-15th century card game called Triumphs, which is the origin of various modern trump card games like Euchre, Bridge, and Hearts.  The tarot card deck resembles the common 52 playing cards used today, with important differences.  There are four suits: Swords, Batons (or Wands), Cups, and Coins (or Pentacles).  In addition to the King and Queen face cards, there is a Knight (which became the Jack) and a Page.  These constitute the court cards, which are also called the Minor Arcana.  In addition, there are 22 trump cards, also called the Major Arcana, with names like the Fool, the Lovers, Death, and the Hanged Man, numbered 0 to 21.  All of the cards have evocative imagery on them, which accounts for their continued appeal.  The cards are now primarily used for divination, or fortune telling, rather than as a card game.  The deck exists in many versions.  The most well known historical deck is the Tarot de Marseilles and the most well known occult deck is the Rider-Waite Tarot, but there are literally thousands of variations.

I actually discovered tarot before I discovered Paganism or Jung.  After I left the Mormon church, I found myself searching the internet for imagery.  I couldn't have said then what I was looking for, but now I realize that I was looking for symbols to fill the vacuum that had been created by the loss of the symbolic system which Mormonism had previously provided me.  I came across tarot and something about the imagery, especially the Major Arcana, was compelling to me, so I went looking for more information.

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  • Deanna Anderson
    Deanna Anderson says #
    I linked to your article from my Goodreads site (it was shared with me on Facebook). I just wrote a book about Tarot, so linked th
  • Deanna Anderson
    Deanna Anderson says #
    Very interesting! I have never seen the Major Arcana described this way but it makes sense. Great article!
  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan says #
    Very interesting blog. When it comes to the Major Arcana, a study of the BOTA deck can be extremely rewarding. What the difference

Jung’s conception of the archetypes evolved over a period of a half century. In general, he tended to describe the archetypes more in biological terms (instincts, structures of the brain) in his earlier writings, and in more spiritual terms in his later writings.

saturn-goya.jpgThe Archetypes and the Parents

Jung’s conception of the archetype originated with his recognition that the personalities of the parents of a child continue to exercise a vital influence on the child, even after the parents are dead. Jung realized that the “images” of the parents survive, often in a distorted form, and continue to “lead a shadowy but nonetheless potent existence in the mind of the patient.” ("The Theory of Psychoanalysis" (1912), CW 4, P 134).  Jung called this parental image an “imago”. The imago was Jung’s first articulation of the concept of the archetype. It’s no wonder then that the mother and father archetypes were of such special importance to Jung.

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The Three Centers of Paganism

I have found a useful tool for thinking about the Pagan community.  Most attempts to describe contemporary Paganism use lists of beliefs or practices.  Some of these lists attempt to be comprehensive, while others do not.  One problem with these lists is that they inevitably focus on those elements that the person making the list wants to emphasize.  Consequently, large portions of the Pagan community are excluded.

Another common way of understanding the Pagan community is as a metaphorical umbrella.  The problem with this metaphor is that the image of an umbrella suggest a single center.  And what the "center" is is a matter of perspective, usually the perspective of the person drawing the umbrella.  

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  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Thanks! I'm glad it will help.
  • Archer
    Archer says #
    I found this very useful--in any Pagan group there's always a lot of translating to be done, and this model will facilitate that.
  • Julian Greene
    Julian Greene says #
    John, regarding the positive and negative potentials of each, I felt pleased when I had "arrived" at what I considered a middle pl

Jung's Collected Works are being made available for instant download as of March 1, 2014! Below are some convenient links for purchase/download of either the entire collection or individual volumes. 

For Pagans interested reading just one volume of Jung's writings, I would recommend Volumes 9(i) (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconsciousand 11 (Psychology and Religion) which explain the gods in terms of archetypes.  If you're really into mythology, then I would also recommend Vol. 5 (Symbols of Transformation).  If you are an esotericist, then I would recommend Vols. 13 & 14, which are about spiritual alchemy.  And if you are more into the visionary, then definitely check out the Red Book (not part of the Collected Works), Jung's account of his visions and imaginings during his period of psychological breakdown following his split from Freud.

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You don't know Jung ... and it's his own fault. Jung's concepts are frequently misunderstood by Pagans, both by those who love him and those who hate him. Part of the confusion surrounding Jung is due to his choice of terminology. Jung chose terms that -- at least when translated into English -- are commonly used to mean something very different than what he intended. In this series, I discuss six Jungian terms which are easily and commonly misunderstood: psychic, energyselfindividuationsymbol, collective unconscious, and archetype. In this final part, I will discuss "archetype".

b2ap3_thumbnail_dream-238x300.png

WHAT THE ARCHETYPES ARE NOT

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Before proceeding to describe the nature of the archetypes, I want to return to the structure of the psyche which I discussed in a previous post. In that post, I depicted the structure of the psyche as an iceberg. Jung describes the psyche using other metaphors, including a building and a plant. Both of these analogies bring the discussion of archetypes down to earth, so to speak. The connection of the archetypes to the earth or to matter is of special interest to earth-centered Pagans.

 

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In honor of the Winter Solstice and Christmas I offer this story of the birth of a god recorded by Jung. In this selection from his Red Book, Jung describes in symbolic language the consequences of the death of his god. Jung is overcome by how his god is made small, like an egg which he can keep in his pocket. He is left disoriented by the loss of his god. So Jung takes the egg containing his god, protects it, nurtures it, while it gestates into something new.

b2ap3_thumbnail_cosmicegg.png

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You don't know Jung ... and it's his own fault.  Jung concepts are frequently misunderstood by Pagans, both by those who love him and those who hate him.  Part of the confusion surrounding Jung is due to his choice of terminology.  Jung chose terms that -- at least when translated into English -- are commonly used to mean something very different than what he intended.  In this series, I discuss six Jungian terms which are easily and commonly misunderstood: psychic, energyselfindividuation, symbol, collective unconscious, and archetype.  In this part, I will discuss "collective unconscious".

I had intended to discuss "archetypes" next, but I realized that it is impossible to discuss archetypes without first explaining the nature of the collective unconscious.  It is common for Neo-Pagans and New Agers to speak about the collective unconscious like it is some kind of mystical group mind.  But there is nothing mystical about the collective unconscious.  It is simply that part of our unconscious which we have inherited through the evolutionary history of our brains.  It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which is a product of our personal experiences.  For this reason, Jung often called the collective unconscious the "objective psyche".

b2ap3_thumbnail_collective-unconscious-edit.png

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You don't know Jung ... and it's his own fault.  Jung concepts are frequently misunderstood by Pagans, both by those who love him and those who hate him.  Part of the confusion surrounding Jung is due to his choice of terminology.  Jung chose terms that -- at least when translated into English -- are commonly used to mean something very different than what he intended.  In this series, I discuss five Jungian terms which are easily and commonly misunderstood: psychic, energyself, individuation, symbol, and archetype.  In this part, I will discuss "symbol".

 

What is a symbol?

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You don't know Jung ... and it's his own fault.  Jung concepts are frequently misunderstood by Pagans, both by those who love him and those who hate him.  Part of the confusion surrounding Jung is due to his choice of terminology.  Jung chose terms that -- at least when translated into English -- are commonly used to mean something very different than what he intended.  In this series, I discuss five Jungian terms which are easily and commonly misunderstood: psychic, energy, self, individuation, symbol, and archetype.  In this part, I will talk about "individuation".

Individuation is the process by which a person integrates the conscious and unconscious parts of themselves, and thereby shifts the center of the psyche from the ego to the True Self (see the previous post on "Self").  The problem with this term is it too closely resembles, and there for is confused with, "individualism".  As a consequence, the word "individuation" gives the impression of a separating and distinguishing process, while the ultimate goal of individuation is really integration and unification.

“Again and again I note that the individuation process is confused with the coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the self, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual muddle. Individuation is then nothing but ego-centredness and autoeroticism. But the self comprises infinitely more than a mere ego, as the symbolism has shown from of old. It is as much one’s self, and all other selves, as the ego. Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to itself.” (“On the Nature of the Psyche”, CW 9, P 432).

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You don't know Jung ... and it's his own fault.  Jung concepts are frequently misunderstood by Pagans, both by those who love him and those who hate him.  Part of the confusion surrounding Jung is due to his choice of terminology.  Jung chose terms that -- at least when translated into English -- are commonly used to mean something very different than what he intended.  In this series, I discuss five Jungian terms which are easily and commonly misunderstood: psychic, energy, self, individuation, symbol, and archetype.  In this part, we'll talk about "Self".

"Self" is a terrible Jungian term because Jung means it in almost opposite sense in which people commonly use it.  What we usually mean when we speak about our "selves" is our sense of "I", often restricted to our waking consciousness.  What we commonly think of as our self is what Jung called the "ego".  The ego is the central organizing complex of consciousness.  What Jung meant by the "self" was a much broader term.  It is, according to Jung, that "wholeness that transcends consciousness" (CW 9i, P 278) and "the psychic totality of the individual" (CW 11, P 232).  It is what we might call our "True Self", "Deep Self" or "Big Self".  

If the ego is the organizing complex of consciousness, then the True Self is the organizing archetype of the whole psyche, which includes both the conscious and the unconscious.  If the psyche were analogized to the solar system, then True Self would be the Sun and the ego would be the Earth.  The ego and the True Self function very differently; where the ego tends to discriminate and separate, the True Self integrates and seeks the unity of opposites.  

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Halstead, I agree, in general terms, with your broad categories of modern Pagan belief. It was also interesting to learn th

I'm taking a break from my Jungian Pagan practice series to talk a little about Jungian terminology.  Jung is one of the most used and abused thinkers in Pagan discourse.  His concepts are frequently misunderstood, both by those who love him and those who hate him.  Part of the confusion surrounding Jung is due to his choice of terminology.  At times Jung could be very specific about what certain terms did and did not mean, and at other times he seemed to use terms in precisely the way that he said they should not be used.  To make matters worse, Jung chose terms that -- at least when translated into English -- are commonly used to mean something very different than what he intended.  I want to discuss five Jungian terms which are easily and commonly misunderstood: psychic, energy, self, individuation, symbol, and archetype.  In this post, I will address the first two terms: "psychic" and "energy".

Psychic

Let's start with an easy one: "psychic".  Outside of a Jungian context, "psychic" commonly evokes associations with telepathy and telekinesis.  But in a Jungian context, the term simply means "of or relating to the psyche".  Many Pagans believe in psychic phenomena, so they may misunderstand Jung's use of the term.  While Jung did believe in the reality of phenomena which we today would call "psychic", he was not referring to these phenomena when he used the term "psychic".  "Psychic" just means something having to do with the psyche.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Thanks for sharing this! I was reading a great book about the teachings of the 'Neo' Platonist philosopher-priest Proclus The Succ
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Thanks!

In my last post, I described 5 practical steps for doing dreamwork.  In this post, I want to give you a real life example of a dreamworking I did after writing the last post.

1.  Remembering my dream

I don't usually remember my dreams.  So this night, before going to bed, I said aloud, "I will have a dream and I will remember my dream."  I then tried to think about dreaming as I went to sleep, so the last thing I would think about was dreaming.  I then unintentionally woke a half hour to an hour earlier than I normally do, with just a little bit of memory of a dream.  But as I thought what I remembered, more of the dream came back to me. 

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Thank you for sharing! It was very interesting.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_jacobs-ladder-blake-heartcurrents.jpg

"Jacob's Ladder" by William Blake

In my last post, I discussed dreamwork as a form of Jungian Pagan spiritual practice.  In this post, I want to offer some practical advice for turning dreaming into a spiritual practice.  The following comes from Anthony Stevens' Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming and Robert Johnson's Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Inner Growth.

1.  Remembering Your Dreams

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  • Áine
    Áine says #
    Thanks for this, John! I always remember at least one dream from every night, and I sort of fall back into the dream I left as I f
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Thanks Áine. It's good to know others are getting something out it.
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Great stuff! I always appreciate your perspective. I've had a few "big dreams", as I'm sure that many (if not most) of us have. V

When I comprehended my darkness, a truly magnificent night

came over me and my dream plunged me into the depths of the

millennia, and from it my phoenix ascended.

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  • Laura Smith
    Laura Smith says #
    Great posting. I am a follower of Jung and Campbell in my practice as an Archetypal Dreamwork Analyst. I also blog about my own pe
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Thanks Laura. I'll definitely come over and check out your work.
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Very interesting food for thought. Thanks again for sharing it with us!

Joseph Bloch has invited us to participate in a July Blogfest by writing about cultural appropriation.

I'm a Jungian and an eclectic Neopagan, which means that I am doubly vulnerable to charges of cultural appropriation.  Jungianism and eclectic Neopaganism are criticized for their borrowing of symbols from other cultures for a variety of reasons.  First, the removal of religious symbols and practices from their cultural context may be seen as trivializing.  Second, the adoption of the traditions and practices of another culture may be seen as a form of cultural theft, and another form of Western colonialism.  In many cases, these charges are well-founded, but I don't think it is fair or accurate to condemn eclecticism automatically as either trivializing or as cultural theft.

The trivialization of religious symbols

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    I may not share your theological views, but as a Platonist I'm impressed with your rigorous logic and willingness to share your be
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Wow! Hadn't heard about the Lesbos lawsuit! Those are exactly the right questions: where do we draw the line? and who gets to de

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[Note: This is a revised version of an earlier essay that appeared on the Humanistic Paganism blog.]

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about ritual creation as a form of Jungian Pagan spiritual practice.  I described ritual as a kind of dance between the conscious and unconscious, in which the conscious mind gives form to unconscious energy or potentialities.  Jung often used the metaphor of water to describe the vivifying energies of the unconscious.  This water, wrote Jung, “comes from deep down in the mountain [the unconscious] and runs along secret ways before it reaches daylight [consciousness].”  The place where it springs forth is marked by a symbol.  This symbol merely marks the experience of the archetype, and it should not be confused with the experience (the water) itself or the archetype (the source of the water).

b2ap3_thumbnail_waterfall.jpg

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[Note: This is a revised version of an earlier essay that appeared on the Humanistic Paganism blog.]

"... creative imagination is the only primordial phenomenon accessible to us, the real Ground of the psyche."

-- Jung, letter to Kurt Plachte, Jan. 10, 1929

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What does a Jungian Pagan spiritual practice look like?  So far, on this blog, my writing has been highly abstract.  I'd like to get does to the practical side of things now.

A Jungian spiritual practice may take many forms.  What all of these forms have in common is that they bring together the rational conscious mind with the non-rational unconscious mind.  Dreamwork, for example, is not just dreaming, but upon waking, analyzing the dream and integrating the unconscious contents into one's conscious life. 

Dreamwork is only the most well known form of Jungian spiritual practice.  Any activity that creates a space and invites the unconscious to dialogue with the conscious mind may be a form of Jungian spiritual practice.  The key is to hold the conscious mind in abeyance temporarily so the unconscious can speak and then to allow the conscious mind to interact with the contents of the unconscious in a reciprocal fashion. 

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  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I'll have to find my other resources. I wonder if it was one of Aidan Kelly's books that I found it in. I also have somewhere a
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Thanks. Please do let me know what you turn up. John
  • Elspeth
    Elspeth says #
    Thank you - very clear, instructive article - so useful. You take great care to state that active imagination is different to luci

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