“Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis” as a term is dismissive and insulting, but worse it turns us away from the only spiritual reality…experience.
Last time, I talked about how Jungian archetypes, far from being mere metaphors for natural and psychological processes, can accurately be described as "gods". In this post, I want to discuss how the experience of Jung's archetypes closely resembles Polytheists' descriptions of their encounter with the gods.
It is not uncommon for Pagans to draw on Jung’s concept of archetypes to explain the nature of Pagan deities. Polytheists*, however, often reject Jungian or archetypal explanations of the gods because they seem reductive, and such explanations do not seem to account for the Polytheistic experience of the gods as “actual beings with independence, volition, and power”. When Polytheists hear the gods described as archetypes, they may hear the speaker telling them that it is "all in your head". In addition, talk about “archetypes” can seem abstract, which is inconsistent with the Polytheists' experience of the gods in all their specificity. For example, the "Mother archetype" may not evoke the same devotion among Polytheists as the goddesses Demeter or Kali do.
But is Jung’s theory of the archetypes really inconsistent with the experience Polytheists? Is it possible that the archetypes have been misunderstood by many Polytheists and Pagans alike?
Jung in dialogue with the archetypes
The way that many Pagans have applied Jung’s theories does admittedly render a divinity which is psychologized and abstract. But Jung’s own description of the experience of the archetypes was very different. Jung engaged his unconscious through a technique called “active imagination”, which he also taught to his patients. Active imagination involves inducing a kind of trace or “twilight consciousness”, of the type which we experience just before falling asleep -- a waking dream, if you will. Then Jung would attempt to consciously interact with the images that emerged.
In his semi-autobiographical, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung writes about how he would dialogue with archetypal images, like his "anima", a muse-like mediating archetype. The fact that Jung would talk to the archetypal images of his unconscious, by itself, is not all the surprising; but the fact that the images responded to him -- actually talked back to him -- is surprising. (Jung admitted that he sometimes feared for his sanity.)