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 rebirth of a god, by Jung
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.
"Christmas has come. The God is in the egg. [...]
"However, I am not ready, since I have still not accepted that which chokes my heart. That fearful thing is the enclosing of the God in the egg. I am happy that the great endeavor has been successful, but my fear made me forget the hazards involved. I love and admire the powerful. No one is greater than he with the bull's horns, and yet I lamed, carried, and made him smaller with ease. I almost slumped to the ground with fear when I saw him, and now I rescue him with a cupped hand. These are the powers that make you afraid and conquer you; these have been your Gods and your rulers since time immemorial: yet you can put them in your pocket. What is blasphemy compared to this? I would like to be able to blaspheme against the God: That way I would at least have a God whom I could insult, but it is not worth blaspheming against an egg that one carries in one's pocket. That is a God against whom one cannot even blaspheme.
"I hated this pitifulness of the God. My own unworthiness is already enough. It cannot bear my encumbering it with the pitifulness of the God. Nothing stands firm: you touch yourself and you turn to dust. You touch the God and he hides terrified in the egg. You force the gates of Hell: the sound of cackling masks and the music of fools approaches you. You storm Heaven: stage scenery totters and the prompter in the box falls into a swoon. You notice: you are not true, it is not true above, it is not true below, left and right are deceptions. Wherever you grasp is air, air, air.
"But I have caught him, he who has been feared since time immemorial; I have made him small and my hand surrounds him. That is the demise of the Gods: man puts them in his pocket. That is the end of the story of the Gods. Nothing remains of the Gods other than an egg. And I possess this egg. Perhaps I can eradicate this last one and with this finally exterminate the race of Gods. Now that I know that the Gods have yielded to my power -- what are the Gods to me now? Old and overripe, they have fallen and been buried in an egg.
"But how did this happen? I felled the Great One, I mourned him, I did not want to leave him, since I loved him because no mortal being rivals him. Out of love I devised the trick that relieved him of heaviness and freed him from the confines of space. I took from him -- out of love -- form and corporeality. I enclosed him in the maternal egg. Should I slay him, the defenseless one whom I loved? Should I shatter the delicate shell of his grave, and expose him to the weightlessness and unboundedness of the winds of the world? But did I not sing the incantations for his incubation? Did I not do this out of love for him? Why do I love him? I do not want to tear the love for the Great One from my heart. I want to love my God, the defenseless and hopeless one. I want to care for him, like a child.
"Are we not sons of the Gods? Why should Gods not be our children? If my father the God should die, a God child should arise from my maternal heart. Since I love the God and do not want to leave him. Only he who loves the God can make him fall, and the God submits to his vanquisher and nestles in his hand and dies in the heart of him who loves him and promises him birth.
"My God, I love you as a mother loves the unborn whom she carries in her heart. Grow in the egg of the East, nourish yourself from my love, drink the juice of my life so that you will become a radiant God. We need your light, Oh child. Since we go in darkness, light up our paths. May your light shine before us, may your fire warm the coldness of our life. We do not need your power but life.
"What does power avail us? We do not want to rule. We want to live, we want light and warmth, and hence we need yours. Just as the greening earth and every living body needs the sun, so we as spirits need your light and your warmth. A sunless spirit becomes the parasite of the body. But the God feeds the spirit."
Jung goes on to explain what happened when he finally opens the egg:
“It happened that I opened the egg and that the God left the egg. He was healed and his figure shone transformed, and I knelt like a child and could not grasp the miracle. He who had been pressed into the core of the beginning rose up [...] And when I thought that I had caught the mighty one and held him in my cupped hands, he was the sun itself. [...]
“But behold! I caught the sun without realizing it and carried it in my hand. […] I became his nocturnal mother who incubated the egg of the beginning. And he rose up, renewed, reborn to greater splendor.”
I read Jung's narrative as a metaphor for the birth of the gods of contemporary Neo-Paganism following the death of God . When Nietzsche declared that God was dead in The Gay Science, he followed the declaration with an accusation: "And we have killed him." "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?" he wonders.
"What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"
Neitzsche's feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of this philosophical deicide is echoed by Jung above: "I am not ready, since I have still not accepted that which chokes my heart. [...] Nothing stands firm. [...] Wherever you grasp is air ..."
Nietzsche wonders if we must not ourselves become gods to replace the loss of God. Somewhat more humbly, Jung proposes that we must instead give birth a new god. Like Meister Eckhart who wrote, "We are all meant to be mothers of God. … For God is always needing to be born", Jung suggests that we are incubators of gods:
"Christmas has come. The God is in the egg.
"I am the mother, the simple maiden, who gave birth and did not know how.
"I am the careful father, who protected the maiden.
"I am the shepherd, who received the message as he guarded his herd at night on the dark fields.
"I am the holy animal that stood astonished and cannot grasp the becoming of the God.
"I am the wise man who came from the East, suspecting the miracle from afar.
"And I am the egg that surrounds and nurtures the seed of the God in me."
I experienced this myself when I gave up my Christian faith. In a sense, God died for me. In a sense, I killed him. But my sense of the sacred remained alive, burning like a seed within me. And that seed grew into new gods. Almost 100 years after Nietzsche, David Miller declared in The New Polythesism (1974): “The death of God gives birth to the rebirth of the Gods.” This is what Neo-Paganism is for me: the birthing of new gods in response to the death of God. We invent "festivals of atonement" and "sacred games" in order to conceive these new gods. And these new gods return to us a new life.
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