Dreaming the Myth Onward: Jungian Neo-Paganism
Carl Jung's ideas have been influencing the development of Neo-Paganism 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 Neo-Paganism contribute to Pagan discourse and practice today? And might Jungianism serve as a bridge between the earth-centered and deity-centered Pagan communities?
In the previous two posts, I set out to show how Jung’s archetypal psychology might be of interest to polytheists and deity-centered Pagans. In concluding, I promised to discuss how Jung may also be of interest to earth-centered Pagans.
Jung’s earthiness is sometimes easy to miss. It is quite possible to read a great deal of Jung’s writings, as well as a lot of secondary literature on Jungian psychology, and not find much concern at all with the natural world. In fact, it is easy to interpret Jungian philosophy as being introverted to the point of solipsism. And yet, one of Jung’s biographers confidentially calls him “earth-rooted” as well as “spiritually centered”. People who knew him called often described him as “earthy”, referring to his physicality and vitality, as well as his simplicity. Olga Konig-Fachsenfeld, for one, wrote that Jung's "earth-rootedness" was for her "the guarantee for the credibility of his psychology".
In his personal life, Jung had an intense love of nature, simple rustic lifestyle, and solitude, reminiscent of the Transcendentalists. Jung writes in his semi-autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections that part of him always felt “remote from the world of men, but close to nature, the earth, the sun, the moon, the weather, all living creatures.” His experience of nature bordered on the pantheistic:
“Nothing could persuade me that ‘in the image of God’ applied only to man. In fact it seemed to me that the high mountains, the rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, and animals far better exemplified the essence of God than men with their ridiculous clothes, their meanness, vanity, mendacity, and abhorrent egotism [...]
Jung called plants "God's thoughts" and had a particular appreciation for trees:
“Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason the woods were the place where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.”
Not surprisingly, Jung associated the natural world with his mother, who seemingly in spite of her Christian faith “was somehow rooted in deep, invisible ground [...] somehow connected with animals, trees, mountains, meadows, and running water [...].” These associations gave Jung “a sense of security and the conviction that here was solid ground on which one could stand.” He states, “It never occurred to me how ‘pagan’ this foundation was.”
Interestingly, Jung's earthiness struggled with other parts of himself that were less connected to the natural world. He wrote that the journey from the "cloud cuckoo land" of his youth to "reality" took a long time. He explains that his own personal Pilgrim's Progress "consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am."
In his later years, Jung came to associate the feeling of earth-connection with one place in particular: the “Tower” at Bolingen, a second home which Jung helped to craft from stone with his own hands.
“The feeling of repose and renewal that I had in this tower was intense from the start. It represented for me the maternal hearth. [...] From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone. It is thus a concretization of the individuation process, a memorial aere perennius. During the building work, of course, I never considered these matters. I built the house in sections, always following the concrete needs of the moment. It might also be said that I built, it in a kind of dream. Only afterward did I see how all the parts fitted together and that a meaningful form had resulted: a symbol of psychic wholeness.”
Regarding the time he spent at Bolingen, Jung wrote:
“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the plashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is nothing in the Tower that has not grown into its own form over the decades, nothing with which I am not linked. Here everything has its history, and mine; here is space for the spaceless kingdom of the world's and the psyche's hinterland.”
This last quotations reveals a sense of the deep connection that Jung experienced between his “internal” psyche and the “external” natural world, something we will explore in the next post.
Jung was deeply concerned with the loss of the sense of mystical participation in nature in modern humankind, a loss that he laid squarely at the feet of Christianity. This loss of connection was, Jung believed, a source of neurosis which was absent in more "primitive" cultures. According to Jung, the split between humankind and nature was related to the division between the ego and unconscious within the human psyche.
In my next post, I will describe how Jung’s ideas might be understood from an earth-centered perspective, and how his ideas are being developed my an emerging field called “ecopsychology”.
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