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?

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Jung's Shadow Trinity and the Neopagan Pantheon

It is one thing to sing of the beloved. Another, alas,

to invoke that hidden, guilty river-god of the blood. 

-- Rilke

Shadow gods

Most people, I suspect, are generally familiar with Jung’s concept of the Shadow.   “So far as we can judge from experience, “ writes Jung, “light and shadow are so evenly distributed in man's nature that his psychic totality appears, to say the least of it, in a somewhat murky light.”  (CW 9ii: P 76).  The Shadow is the “dark half of the human totality”.  It represents our unlived life, the good and the bad.

b2ap3_thumbnail_shadow-steven-kenny-300x301.jpg 

A recent post by The Pagan Layman got me thinking about Shadow gods, the gods in many pantheons who function as adversaries and tricksters.  Sometimes there are entire pantheons of primal or elemental gods who are supplanted by another, more civilized pantheon, as in the case of the Greek Titans and Olympians, the Norse Jotnar (Giants) and Aesir, the Celtic Fomorians and DeDanann, and the Indian Asuras and Ahuras.  Other times, there are individual gods within the ruling pantheon who incarnate all the forces of divine opposition: the Egyptian Set, the Norse Loki, and the Israelite Azrael and Satan.

Some Polytheists and Heathens consider the worship of these dark powers to be taboo, in the same way that most people in our Christian society would consider the worship of Satan or the Devil to be.  Many Neopagans and Goddess Worshipers, on the other hand, actively seek to reclaim chthonic deities.  Informed by Jung's understanding of the gods as autonomous aspects of the unconscious psyche, they view the worship of these “shadow” elements as essential to well-rounded spiritual practice.  In this view, the focus of some Polytheists on the “light” pantheon represents an imbalanced attention to the powers of consciousness, to the detriment of the powers of the unconscious.  In other words, it is a form of psychological repression, and as anyone with even a passing familiarity with psychoanalysis can tell you, what is repressed seeks revenge. 

Jung’s Quaternity

In his own lifetime, Jung applied this principle to critique the Christian mythos.  One frequently hears the phrase, "God is love", in Christian discourse.  Jung would have seen this statement as a manifestation of an incomplete and imbalanced symbol for God, because it denies God's dark side.  In his writings, Jung described the symbol of the Christian Trinity as inherently incomplete because, in the words of Jungian John Dourley, it is “unable to admit the reality and power of the darker sides of the Divine and so destined to suffer from their unwarranted invasions.”  To put it another way, the Trinity ignores God’s Shadow.  Jung proposed a "quaternity", symbolized by a cross, as more adequate symbol of wholeness than a trinity (CW 11: P 243 et seq).  And he proposed several different archetypes that might constitute the missing fourth arm of this quaternity which would provide psychological wholeness to the Christian image of God.

The Great Mother

The bodily assumption of Mary into heaven was defined as a dogma of the Catholic faith by Pope Pius XII in November 1950.  Jung called this "the most important religious event since the Reformation." (CW 11: P 751).  But earlier he had already proposed that a feminine archetype -- of which Mary, the Theotokos, was an example -- would complete the exclusively masculine Christian Trinity (CW 11: P 107).  Elsewhere, Jung called this archetype, the “Great Mother” (CW 9i: PP 148, 156-158).  According to Jung’s student Erich Neumann, the Great Mother archetype has been repressed in Western society: "[T]he peril of present-day mankind springs in large part from the one-sidedly patriarchal development of the male intellectual consciousness, which is no longer kept in balance by the matriarchal world of the psyche."

Jung also described the Gnostic Sophia, the feminine principle which is coeternal with God, as another example of the feminine archetypes that might complete the imbalanced Trinity.  (CW 11: P 609-628).  However, Sophia and Mary are themselves unbalanced expressions of the feminine principle.  While they may balance patriarchal consciousness to some extent, they do not embrace their own shadows.  Jung explained that while the Mother archetype is associated with positive aspects, such as

“maternal solicitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and spiritual exaltation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility”

as well as transformation and rebirth, it is also associated with negative aspects including "anything secret, hidden, dark; the abyss, the world of the dead, anything that devours, seduces, and poisons, that is terrifying and inescapable like fate.”  (CW 9i: P 158).  Neither Mary nor Sophia adequately embodied this archetype.  Indeed, Jung writes that the archetype of the Madonna "has entirely lost the shadow".  (CW 9i: P 189). 

Jung suggested that the Indian goddess Kali, the "the loving and terrible mother", captured the ambivalence of the mother goddess archetype.  According to Jung, Indian philosophy assigned the mother archetype three fundamental attributes: goodness, passion, and darkness.  "These are three essential aspects of the mother", wrote Jung: "her cherishing and nourishing goodness, her orgiastic emotionality, and her Stygian depths."  (CW 9i: P 158).  Neopagans may recognize these as the three aspects of the Triple Goddess as described by Robert Graves: Mother, Lover, and Slayer.

The Antichrist

Jung also describes Satan as the fourth archetype to complete the Christian quaternity.  (CW 11: PP 103-105; P 249).  Satan represents evil, another aspect of the repressed Shadow of the Christian God.  The figure of Christ, accord to Jung, is “so one-sidedly perfect that it demands a psychic complement to restore the balance.”  (CW 9ii: P 77).  Jung explains in the prefatory note to his "Answer to Job" that, prior to the Manichaean influence upon Christianity, Clement taught that God ruled the world with his right and his left hand, the right being Christ, the left Satan, the two providing a kind of balance in a “paradoxical unity” that is God.  Later, however, Christianity became dualistic, splitting off one half of the complementary opposites, personified in the irreconcilable figure of Satan (and thereby creating the “awkward” problem of theodicy). 

But what is split off ultimately has its revenge.  As Jung so poignantly put it: "The coming of the Antichrist is not just prophetic prediction--it is an inexorable psychological law." (CW 9ii: P 77).  Thus, Jung's statements about the devil should be understood as an acknowledgement of the psychological reality of evil:

"Whatever the metaphysical position of the devil may be, in psychological reality evil is an effective, not to say menacing, limitation of goodness, so that it is no exaggeration to assume that in this world good and evil more or less cancel each other out, like day and night, and that this is the reason why the victory of the good is always a special act of grace."  (CW 11: P 253).

The Body as Shadow

Finally, Jung suggested that the earth could the fourth archetype that completed the quarternity.  (CW 11: P 107).  The importance that Jung placed on the Assumption has been noted above.  In addition to the elevation of the archetypal feminine, the Assumption also elevates the archetype of the earth and the related archetype of the body.  Jung took note of the associations of Mary with the earth.  (CW 11: P 107, n. 52).  

"[T]he relationship to the earth and to matter is one of the inalienable qualities of the mother archetype. So that when a figure that is conditioned by this archetype is represented as having been taken up into heaven, the realm of the spirit, this indicates a union of earth and heaven, or of matter and spirit." (CW 9i: P 195).

Thus, the Assumption is a kind of hieros gamos between heaven and earth.

In addition, Jung gave special emphasis to the fact that Mary's Assumption was a bodily assumption:

"The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, i.e., the taking up of Mary's soul into heaven with her body, is admitted as ecclesiastical doctrine [...] Although Christ, too, rose up with his body, this has a rather different meaning, since Christ was a divinity in the first place and Mary was not. In her case the body would have been a much more material one than Christ's, much more an element of space-time reality." (CW 11: P 251, emphasis added).

Jung wrote, "The body is very often the personification of the shadow."  (CW 18: P 40).  In Jung's view, the body and spirit are really "one and the same thing".  (Seminar on Zarathustra, pp. 99, 114).  But we have become alienated from the experience of this unity and "suffer from a certain unreality of life".  (Ibid., p. 48).  According to Jung, we have "lost the body" and have become "two dimensional".  (CW 18: P 40).  In this way, the body can be seen as part of our Shadow.  Jung anticipated "a rediscovery of the body after its long subjection to the spirit."  (CW 10: P 195).  (See also John Conger, Jung and Reich: Body as Shadow; Gottfried Heuer, "'In my flesh I shall see God': Jungian body psychotherapy"; Andre Sassenfeld, "The Body in Jung's Work".)

Jung’s Shadow Trinity

It is no coincidence that Jung identified woman, evil, and earth/body as archetypes that might complete the Christian quaternity.  Indeed, as spiritual feminists and contemporary Goddess worshipers have long recognized, these three archetypes have been closely associated in the Western psyche for millennia.     

In his book, A Strategy for a Loss of Faith, John Dourley describes the development of Jung's myth in response to the perceived limitations of the Christian myth:

“[Jung was d]riven to this countermyth and metaphysic by what he considered the psychologically demonstrable one-sidedness of the Christian myth, which was unable to deal with the instinctual, the demonic, or the feminine in either its Trinity or messiah. [... God] must include at least potentially all that is manifest within creation. This would have to extend, therefore, to the demonic, to the material, bodily world, and to the feminine.” (emphasis added)

Dourley's analysis suggests a Jungian Shadow Trinity to complement the Christian Trinity:

God the Father ~ God the Mother

Christ ~ Satan

Holy Ghost ~ Holy Body

In fact, Jung did allude to “an infernal Antitrinity, a true ‘umbra trinitatis’ analogous to the Antichrist.” (CW 11: P 252).  Elsewhere, he described a “chthonic quaternity” which stood in contrast to the spiritual or heavenly one. (CW 11: P 673).

The Neopagan Shadow Trinity

Neopagan mythology may be understood as an expression of this Jungian Shadow Trinity: the God the Mother archetype finds expression in the Neopagan Goddess, also called the Great Goddess.  Neopagan characterizations of the Goddess commonly incorporate the dark or negative aspects of the Great Mother archetype which are excluded from images of Mary or Sophia. 

The Satan archetype finds expression in the Neopagan Horned God.  While Neopagans do not worship the Christian Satan, the Horned God is both historically and conceptually derivative of Satan. Ronald Hutton has convincingly demonstrated that the Neopagan Horned God has its origin in a modern re-paganization of medieval Christian devil imagery employed Jules Michelet and Margaret Murray.  In addition, the Horned God may be understood as a valorization of our animal or sexual nature, which has been demonized in the form of the Christian Satan.

Finally, the Holy Body (my term) finds expression in the human body (especially women's non-idealized bodies) and the earth, which are seen by Neopagans as part of a divine materiality.  Neopagans, together with Goddess worshipers, thealogians, and other spiritual feminists, have contributed to the investing of the earth, the body, physicality, sexuality, and femininity with new spiritual value and meaning. 

Neopagans rightly congratulate themselves on being a part of this movement which they often describe in Jungian terms as "reclaiming" the Shadow.  Sam Webster writes that "Pagans are the shadow of western civilization."

"We come from the Shadow of our culture. We are the Occult, the Hidden in this culture, the dark fertile bits that got left behind and forgotten in the drive for modernity. Don’t the Jungians say that it is from the Shadow that all real change comes? That in the shadow the resources to make profound change dwell? For this culture, we the Pagani, suppressed, repressed, and discarded, written out of history, forgotten and accursed, we the Pagani, are the Shadow. ... And the repressed always returns."

(Sam Webster, "Pagan Agenda").

Whose Shadow do we worship?

There is an important caveat to add though.  While Neopagans are involved in reclaiming the Shadow, it needs to be emphasized that it is the Christian Shadow that we are reclaiming, not necessarily our own Shadow.  The Goddess and the Horned represent the Shadow of Christian civilization, but Paganism has its own Shadows.  We have a tendency as Pagans to romanticize the dark (in the same way we romanticize nature), and in so doing we perpetuate its repression.  There is a dark side to Neopaganism which we often overlook in the process of reclaiming the Shadow of Christian society.  And that will be the subject of my next post.

 

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John discovered Jungianism and Neo-Paganism 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 HumanisticPaganism.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.

Comments

  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette Saturday, 04 May 2013

    This is a wonderful post. I love your statement that NeoPagans are modern society's "shadow." I will proudly take that title!
    I also agree with your caution against romanticizing the shadow...a trend I see too often with not only NeoPagans, but cowan Goth/vampire culture.
    And I want to add that in some traditions of Buddhism, the "deities" (for lack of a better term - Buddhists don't believe in gods) have both "benevolent" and "wrathful" aspects. A very insightful and balanced approach, I believe.
    I do have one small criticism: "the Horned God is both historically and conceptually derivative of Satan." I'm sorry, but images of horned gods (e.g., Cernunnos, Pan) show up far earlier than Christianity. That Wiccans have blended them into the "All-God," yes, that is modern. But horned gods are not. Even how we Wiccans see Him (The Horned God) is *not* derivative of Satan. Satan is, according to those who believe in him, hateful, destructive, deceitful, manipulative, hurtful....nothing that our beloved Horned God is. That they happen to look alike is because we Wiccans did the same that Christians did: conglomerated several pre-Christian horned gods into one. Because this created being (aren't all gods, though?) is wild, sexy, and powerful, Christians made him the embodiment of their ultimate evil. We Wiccans made him the embodiment of our ultimate masculine force. So yes, they have a connection, but one is not derivative of the other. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say Satan is a "wrathful" aspect of "The Horned God." (or The Horned God is the "benevolent" aspect of Satan).
    All in all, though, I thank you for an insightful post.

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Sunday, 05 May 2013

    I agree with everything you said about the Horned God. It's still true that the Neopagan Horned God derives from the Wiccan Horned God which derives from Gardner who derived it from Margaret Murray and Jules Michelet, both of whom were talking about Satan. Of course, at each stage of this process, the Horned God was transformed, until we have the Neopagan Horned God today, which only superficially resembles Satan. But you see my point.

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