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?
The Psyche and the Earth
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.
In the analogy to the physical building, Jung describes the upper stories as representing the conscious psyche and the subterranean levels as representing the unconscious:
"[I]t is as though we had to describe and explain a building whose upper story was erected in the nineteenth century, the ground floor dates back to the sixteenth century, and careful examination of the masonry reveals that it was reconstructed from a tower built in the eleventh century. In the cellar we come upon Roman foundations, and under the cellar a choked-up cave with neolithic tools in the upper layer and remnants of fauna from the same period in the lower layers. That would be the picture of our psychic structure. We live on the upper story and are only aware that the lower story is slightly old-fashioned. As to what lies beneath the earth's surface, of that we remain totally unconscious.
"[...] our upper story, consciousness, is continually influenced by its living and active foundations. Like the building, it is sustained and supported by them. And just as the building rises freely above the earth, so our consciousness stands as if above the earth in space, with a wide prospect before it. But the deeper we descend into the house the narrower the horizon becomes, and the more we find ourselves in the darkness, till finally we reach the naked bed-rock, and with it that prehistoric time when reindeer hunters fought for a bare and wretched existence against the elemental forces of wild nature. The men of that age were still in full possession of their animal instincts, without which life would have been impossible. The free sway of instinct is not compatible with a strongly developed consciousness. The consciousness of primitive man, like that of the child, is sporadic, and his world, like the child's, is very limited. Indeed, in accordance with phylogenetic law, we still recapitulate in childhood reminiscences of the prehistory of the race and of mankind in general. Phylogenetically as well as ontogenetically we have grown up out of the dark confines of the earth; hence the factors that affected us most closely became archetypes, and it is these primordial images which influence us most directly, and therefore seem to be the most powerful."
("Mind and Earth" (1927), CW 10, PP 54-55).
Jung's description of the structure of the psyche in terms of a physical building is interesting, at least in part, because it highlights the connection between archetypes of the unconscious psyche and matter.
"... I tried to give a general view of the structure of the unconscious. Its contents, the archetypes, are as were the hidden foundations of the conscious mind, or, to use another comparison, the roots which the psyche has sunk not only in the earth in the narrower sense but in the world in general. [...] They are inherited with the brain structure--indeed, they are its psychic aspect. [...] They are thus, essentially, the chthonic portion of the psyche, if we may use such an expression--that portion through which the psyche is attached to nature, or in which its link with the earth and the world appears at its most tangible. The psychic influence of the earth and its laws is seen most clearly in these primordial images." (CW 10, P 53).
There is a tendency among commentators on Jung to describe the archetypes in Platonic terms, as transcendental forms. This is likely due to the fact that the existence of the archetypes can only be inferred from their effects. Indeed, Jung himself drew the analogy of archetypes to Platonic Ideas. But in the quote above, he strives to bring the archetypes back down to earth. Indeed, he writes that they are only to be found deep within the earth. By this, he seems to mean that, unlike consciousness, which may sometimes have only a tenuous connection to the world of matter, the archetypes are the part of the psyche most closely connected to and most strongly influenced by matter.
Jung suggests two ways that the unconscious psyche is connected to matter. First, the archetypes of the unconscious are inherited with the brain structure. Second, the archetypes are closely related to the instincts. Elsewhere, Jung describes the instincts and the archetypes as two aspects -- material and psychic -- of the same phenomenon. (CW 8, PP 414, 419).
According to Jung, this connection between the psyche and matter develops both "phylogenetically" and "ontogenetically". In biology, phylogeny refers to the evolutionary history of species, while ontogeny pertains to the developmental history of an organism within its own lifetime. Therefore, the connection of an individual's psyche to the earth arises both from his genetic inheritance from prehistoric times when human beings were more instinctual, and also from our own developmental history as infants. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Jung proceeds in the same essay to elaborate on the mother archetype, which he describes as the "most immediate" archetype. The mother archetype is related not only to our personal or ontogenetic mother, but also to our phylogenetic mother, Mother Earth or Mother Nature.
Jung observes that the analogy of the building is inadequate in so far as it suggests that the archetypes of the unconscious are inert, like the inert matter that the building is constructed from. He writes: "This is a lame analogy, like all analogies, for in the psyche there is nothing that is just a dead relic. Everything is alive, and our upper story, consciousness, is continually influenced by its living and active foundations." (CW 10, P 55). Jung here alludes to, but does not elaborate upon, a third metaphor for the psyche, that of a tree of other plant that has its roots sunk in the earth. Elsewhere, Jung analogizes the psyche to a plant:
"The symptom is like the shoot above ground, yet the main plant is an extended rhizome underground. The rhizome represents the content of a neurosis; it is the matrix of complexes, of symptoms, and of dreams. We have every reason to believe that dreams mirror exactly the underground processes of the psyche. And if we get there, we literally get at the 'roots' of the disease." (CW 11, P 37).
Jung concludes the essay, describing this bond with the as both a curse and a blessing. It both limits our freedom, but also grounds us. According to Jung, this grounding is essential to our psychic health:
"Our contact with the unconscious chains us to the earth and makes it hard for us to move, and this is certainly no advantage when it comes to progressiveness and all the other desirable motions of the mind. Nevertheless I would not speak ill of our relation to good Mother Earth. Plurimi pertransibunt ["many shall pass"] -- but he who is rooted in the soil endures. Alienation from the unconscious and from its historical conditions spells rootlessness. That is the danger that lies in wait for the conqueror of foreign lands, and for every individual who, through one-sided allegiance to any kind of -ism, loses touch with the dark, maternal, earthy ground of his being." (CW 10, P 103).
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