Pagan Paths

The morning sun rising in the east calls to the Bright Youth in me, and the Bright Youth responds. The full moon calls to the Muse, and the waning and dark moon to the Dark Maiden who is a part of me. The earth I touch with my fingers calls to the Mother, in both her guises, Nurturing and Devouring. The bright green shoots rising from the earth and the green leaves on the trees on my street in the spring, these call to the Stag King, while the red leaves fallen to the earth in the autumn call to the Dying God. The spring storm that rises up suddenly in the west calls to the Storm King. The night sky, the dark space between the stars, calls to Mother Night, my death come to make peace. The gods-without call and the gods-within respond.

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The archetypes are not metaphors


I have heard hard polytheists come up with all sorts of words to distinguish their gods from Jungian archetypes.  The gods, they say, are "real", "literal", "individual", "distinct", and "separate"; they are "persons", "beings", "entities", or "agents".  The archetypes, it is implied, are none of these things. 

I think much of this is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the archetypes.  In my previous post, I addressed the question of whether the archetypes are "real".  In this post, I want to respond to the position of many hard polytheists that they believe in "literal" gods.

The statement that the gods of polytheists are "literal" often is meant to imply that Jungian archetypes are merely metaphorical or symbolic.  It is true that use of the term "archetype" has degenerated in common parlance and much of Neo-Pagan discourse to be more or less synonymous with "symbol" or "metaphor", but this is not how Jung meant it.  And for this reason, I have written here and elsewhere about the importance of "re-godding" the archetypes, i.e., restoring to the concept of "archetype" all the numinous power of deity. 

The archetypes, according to Jung, are dynamic and ineffable powers which determine much of the course of our inner lives.  The function in our lives "exactly like an Olympus full of deities who want to be propitiated, served, feared and worshipped" (CW 11, P 143) and they compel “the same belief or fear, submission or devotion which a God would demand" from us (CW 11, 142).

I will be writing more about the dynamic quality of the archetypes in a future post.  Here, I want to distinguish archetypes from mere metaphors or symbols in terms of the ineffable nature of the former.  Archetypes are part of the unconscious.  The unconscious transcends the ego in similar way to which the gods of myth transcended mortals.  While symbols have a conscious or known meaning, the archetypes always remain unknown and inexhaustible.  Symbols can only ever be partial expressions of the archetypes.  The moment an archetype is fully comprehended by the conscious mind is the moment is ceases to be an archetype.  The claim that any symbol could fully comprehend the meaning of an archetype would be a kind of psychic idolatry. 

In addition, unlike metaphors and symbols, archetypes cannot be created consciously.  The archetypes arise from the unconscious, not the conscious mind.  This is why the archetypes manifest in our dreams, our imagination, and in our art.  Archetypes can no more be created than our dreams can be created.  The archetypes, like dreams, are something that happens to us, not something we cause to happen.

Jung often used the metaphor of water to describe the vivifying energies of the unconscious.  This "water", he says, comes from deep down in the unconscious and runs along secret ways before it reaches the daylight of consciousness.  (CW 18, 1587).  The underground channel though which it runs is the archetype.  The place where it springs forth is marked by a symbol.  This symbol merely marks the place of the experience of the archetype, though, and it should not be confused with the experience (drinking the water) or the archetype itself (the channel in which the water flows).

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John Halstead also writes at (Patheos),,,,, and The Huffington Post. He was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” (, and the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. John is also a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community ( To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


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