You've heard of Pagans who are naturalists, humanists, atheists, agnostics, or the like, but what's it all about? Discover the wonder of a naturalistic path rooted in science and myth.
Jung's Pagans, pt. 3: Janet and Stewart Farrar and Vivianne Crowley
Carl Jung articulated a psychology in which myth emerges from biology, part of a natural process of individuation. This 3-part guest post series by John Halstead explores the influence of Jung on major figures in Contemporary Paganism.
by John Halstead
Janet and Stewart Farrar
Janet and Stewart Farrar were initiates of Alex Sanders into Alexandrian Witchcraft and were strongly influenced by Doreen Valiente, and who was herself influenced by Jungian ideas.
Witchcraft and psychology
In The Witches’ Way (1984), the Farrars devoted a chapter to the Jungian interpretation of Wiccan ritual. They write that “Every witch would be well advised to study the works of Carl Gustav Jung. [...] Jung’s ideas strike an immediate chord with almost every witch who turns serious attention to them.”
In The Witches’ Goddess, the Farrars write that “[e]very good witch, and particularly every good High Priestess, has to be something of a psychologist.” They then proceed to explain such Jungian concepts as the collective unconscious, the archetypes, the anima and animus, and synchronicity.
Integrating the psyche
In The Witches’ Way, the Farrars go on to define the purpose of Wicca “as a religion” (as opposed to “a Craft”) to be the integration of conflicting aspects of the individual psyche and the individual psyche with the "Cosmic Psyche". They compare ritual to dreams, as both involve communication between the unconscious and the ego:
“In dreams, the necessary communication between Unconscious and Ego is initiated by the Unconscious. In ritual, it is initiated by the Ego.”
Gods and archetypes
The Farrars went on to publish The Witches’ Goddess (1987) and The Witches’ God (1989), which describe various feminine and masculine “archetypal” principles such as the “Earth Mother”, the “Bright and Dark Mother”, and the “Triple Goddess” (all of which they defined as “aspects” of Jung’s “Great Mother” archetype), and the “Son/Lover”, the “Vegetation God”, and the “Horned God”.
While the Farrars insist the archetypes are “real” and the gods “exist”, they nevertheless take a pragmatic or psychological attitude to the question which should be of interest to many naturalistic Pagans:
“To the age-old question, ‘Are the Gods real?’ … the witch answers confidently, ‘Yes.’ [...] But from the point of view of the psychic value of myth, ritual and symbolism, the somewhat surprising answer to the question is, ‘It doesn’t matter’. Each man and woman can worry out for himself or herself whether archetypal God-forms were born in the human Collective Unconscious or took up residence there (and elsewhere) as pied-a-terre from their cosmic home—their importance to the human psyche is beyond doubt in either case, and the techniques for coming to healthy and fruitful terms with them can be used by believers and non-believers alike.
“Voltaire said: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’. That remark can be taken as cynical; but it can also be rephrased: ‘Whether the archetypal God-forms are cosmically divine, or merely the living foundation-stones of the human psyche, we would be wise to seek intercourse with them as though they were divine’. Myth and ritual bring about nourishing communication with the Archetypes, and because of the nature and evolution of the human psyche, the symbolism or myth or ritual—their only effective vocabulary—is basically religious.”
Vivianne Crowley (no relation to Aleister Crowley) is herself a Jungian therapist, as well as an initiate of both Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft. Her influence on the British Neo-Pagan community has been significant.
Wouter Hanegraaf has written that Crowley’s Jungian perspective “is so strong that readers might be forgiven for concluding that Wicca is little more than a religious and ritual translation of Jungian psychology.”
Mysteries and psychotherapy
Crowley writes in her essay, “Wicca as a Modern-Day Mystery Religion” (included in Graham Harvey’s Paganism Today), that Wicca is a mystery religion which has the same goal as the ancient mysteries:
“to know thyself and to attain some form of permanent psycho-spiritual transformation involving a moving of the center of the personality from the ego (what I think of as myself), to the Self (what I truly am when the contents of the unconscious are revealed and reconciled). Interestingly, these aims are similar to those of many of the more spiritually-oriented psychotherapy movements, of which Carl Jung’s is the best-known.”
According to Crowley, Wicca accomplishes this psycho-spiritual transformation through religious ritual, which is an “externalization” of an inner psychological journey represented through symbolism.
Initiation and individuation
Crowley elaborates on this theme in her book Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age. There she interprets the three degrees of the Wiccan initiation in Jungian terms.
According to Crowley, the first initiation is a confrontation with the Jungian shadow and a balancing of the four Jungian functions (sensation, thinking, intuition, feeling), which Crowley associates in typical Neo-Pagan fashion with the four cardinal directions and the four Empedoclean elements and then superimposes on a quartered circle.
Crowley (like the Farrars) described the second initiation as a confrontation with one’s anima/animus and an experience of ego-death, mythologized in the Gardnerian “Legend of the Goddess”.
The third initiation for Crowley was an encounter with the Jungian Self through the union of the conscious with the unconscious, symbolized by the Great Rite, the Sacred Marriage between the God and Goddess.
Thus, in Crowley’s view, the Wiccan initiations are steps in “a journey toward individuation -- the term which Carl Jung used to describe the process of becoming who and what we really are.”
David Waldon, and other writers like Naomi Goldenberg (Changing of the Gods) and David Tacey (Jung and the New Age), criticize the facile adoption of Jungian concepts by many Neo-Pagans. Nevertheless, all of these writers attest to the importance of Jung and his ideas to the movement.
Through Starhawk, Margot Adler, the Farrars, Vivianne Crowley, and other Pagan writers and teachers, the ideas of Jung thoroughly permeated contemporary Pagan thought.
From Romanticism to Jung
According to David Waldron, “The adoption of Jungian analytical psychology by much of the neo-Pagan movement during the sixties and seventies led to profound changes in the nature of neo-Pagan approaches to history, culture, and spirituality.” It led to a shift in emphasis from concerns with historical authenticity and adherence to tradition to a focus on “psychological truth” and “Pagan consciousness” (the experience of divinity as immanent). Waldron explains:
“In many this represent[ed] a return to the origins of neo-Paganism in the Theosophical Society and nineteenth century Romanticism as opposed to the ideas expressed in Gerald Gardner’s Wicca and the traditions of ritual secret societies and esoteric occultism that spawned the original movement.”
From Jung to post-modernism
Waldron writes that, in the 1990s and 21st century, Jungian theory began to be dislodged as the dominant explanatory theory of Neo-Paganism and was supplanted by what Waldron identifies as “post-modern theory”, which rejects all meta-narratives (like Jungianism) and all forms of epistemological foundationalism, privileging creativity and experience over all.
This postmodern suspicion of objective truth claims may be observed in contemporary Pagan polytheists’ comfort with unsystematic descriptions of their pluralistic experience of divinity.
For more on the influence of Jung on the Neo-Pagan movement, see:
- Crowley, Vivianne. “Neo-Paganism and Psychology, in The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism, eds. Shelley Rabinovich and James Lewis (2002).
- Goldenberg, Naomi. Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the end of traditional religions (1979).
This series has explored Jung's influence on seven major figures, one by one. Check previous posts for essays on:
Janet and Stewart Ferrar
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