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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Why Jungian Terminology Is An Obstacle For Many Pagans


Over at, I've been playing with the idea of Pagans reclaiming the word "God".  I won't go into all the details -- but I got major pushback.  It seems that some words have just been ruined for Pagans.

Kind of like the swastika, I suppose, which originally was a pagan symbol -- possibly representing the cycle of the seasons -- but was forever ruined by its adoption by the Nazis.  

Likewise, "God" seems to have been ruined by two millennia of patriarchal Christianity.  Pagans can do "the Goddess" and "the Gods" and even "the God" -- but not "God".  

Another word that seems to have been ruined is "archetype".  

I'm a Jungian Neo-Pagan.  Lately, I've taken to calling myself an archetypal polytheist.  I'm not the only Jungian Neo-Pagan or archetypal polytheist, although sometimes it feels like it.  Jungian Neo-Paganism has a venerable history.  In fact, there's evidence that even some ancient pagans may have understood the gods archetypally.  

More recently, Margot Adler was a Jungian Neo-Pagan and was largely responsible for the popularization of the archetypal interpretation of the gods, as were Janet and Stewart Farrar (although Janet's theology has since shifted).  Another example is Eric S. Raymond (known to hackers as ESR).  Other well-known Pagans who might call themselves Jungians or archetypalists include Shauna Aura KnightDrake Spaeth, Vivianne Crowley, and Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, the high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, the the Icelandic Asatru Association.

I've been writing here and at (Patheos) and at for years now, and a lot of my writing has been about Jungian Neo-Paganism or archetypal polytheism.  (I even included an essay on Jungian Neo-Paganism in the book I edited, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans.)  In fact, the first essay I ever wrote for the internet was about the idea of "regodding" the archetypes -- restoring the sense of luminosity, transcendence, otherness, and even agency to the archetypes.  This was how Jung originally described archetypes -- as gods.  But that sense of transcendence has been lost over time as the word has come to be conflated with mere "symbols" or "metaphors".  

For a couple of decades in the early years of Neo-Paganism, Jungian psychology offered Pagans a way of speaking about the gods that made sense to the modern mind.  Unfortunately, in the process, Jungian psychology got dumbed down for the masses, and the sense of the transcendence of the archetypes/gods was lost.  Around the turn of the millennium, there was a backlash against Jungian Neo-Paganism, which took the form of what came to be called "devotional polytheism".  

Many devotional polytheists sought to restore the sense of the "otherness" of the gods by adopting a metaphysical literalism.  They gods, they insisted, exist independently of the human mind.  Whatever its philosophical shortcomings, this turned out to be very effective at creating powerful rituals.  Which shouldn't be surprising: rituals will always be more powerful when the participants are able to fully commit to the ritual.  Belief is one way of doing this.  (Suspension of disbelief is another.)

Nowadays, even the mention of the word "archetype" or the name of Carl Jung among Pagans is likely to provoke derision.  Because the effectiveness of a lot of devotional polytheism depends on belief -- specifically the belief in the gods' metaphysical independence from the human mind -- then the suggestion that the gods are archetypes (or the archetypes are gods) is perceived as a threat to the new polytheist orthodoxy.  

Still, I have persisted in advancing a Jungian interpretation of the gods.  I think it matters that we understand the true nature of the gods for a number of reasons:

1.  If the origin of the gods is in the psyche, then we should not place our unqualified trust in them.

2.  Similarly, if the origin of the gods in the psyche, then worshiping one god to the exclusion of others can lead to a one-sided psychological development.

3.  Finally, insisting on the "independence" or "separation" of the gods perpetuates the disenchantment of the world.

I think it is important for Pagans to understand this.  In fact, I was contemplating writing a book on these ideas --  the working title was The Gods Are Not Good: A Guide to Archetypal Polytheism.

But I feel like I have been banging my head against a wall over this issue.  My frustration has been part of the reason for my prolonged silence on this blog.  (Another is a shift in my theology to a more earth-centered orientation.  More on that later.)

I think a large part of the problem with my approach comes down to language.  However much I wish it weren't so, Jungian terminology has been ruined for many Pagans.  The word "archetype" is a "dead letter" and the name of Carl Jung has become anathema.

So, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps I might get the points above across without invoking Jung and without using the word "archetypes".  I started to consider this after reading W. D. Wilkerson's essay, "Confessions of a Formerly Reluctant Polytheist" in Walking With The Gods: Modern People Talk About Deities, Faith, and Recreating Ancient Traditions. There, Wilkerson writes about his own journey from Jungian Neo-Paganism to devotional polytheism.  (I'll be writing more about Wilkerson's essay soon.)

And let's face it, "archetype" really is a terrible word for what Jung had in mind -- living agencies that have a god-like power over our destiny.  The German word, urbild, isn't any better either.  Both words suggest something static, when Jung had something dynamic -- living -- in mind.  

I've tried to come up with better words.  An earlier term used by Jung was "imago", but I don't think it's much better.  Another possibility is "daimon" -- which is a term Jung used interchangeably with "god" and "archetype".  (Rollo May also uses the term in this way.)  

The best term I have is "god", but it is a term which needs to be qualified or I risk confusion with the literal conception gods of devotional polytheists which is becoming the new norm in Paganism.  More on this in the next post.

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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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