nature of the Self: theory, image & archetype
We are in deep winter: days short, nights long. Father sun seems so far away, mother earth lonely. All the creatures mourn in winter. They burrow in their little holes and mourn the lost days of sun. Mother nature proffers so little in winter. The animals seem to know that. They go within and await her spring, her bosom, her blossom. All the world will rejoice when light and earth rejoin in their holy union. It is then, that life will burst forth in divine celebration. The animals frolic, make love, build their little nests, hatch their eggs– life is born of union.
But we, us human souls, are on another cycle. While our bodies may follow such creaturely cycles, seeking union in bodily form, our souls follow a different cycle entirely. In the depths of winter the divine child is born. On the darkest of days we celebrate the birth of the divine child.
What is the divine? How might we know it? Carl Jung provides a unique perspective. The divine is a divine couple: mother and father of souls. In Symbols of Transformation, Jung speaks to the soul, leading us on a path of soul. This is not your normal everyday path. God is not some distant icon, some idealized figure in the sky. This is a phenomenological path: the soul comes into form insofar as it lives and knows. This is Gnosis. And what are we to know? Many things, but first we shall start with our divine parents.
The first parent we shall meet is God the father: God is “love.” God is there for us, loving us, guiding us from the beginning. But Jung warns us that we need to be careful of any overdetermined images this idea might provoke:
“The language of religion defines God as “love,” there is always the great danger of confusing the love which works in man with the workings of God” (para. 98)
To know God we must move beyond God as image. We must know God, see God, feel God. It is through this act of knowing that the soul is born. For the “God-concept is not only an image, but an elemental force”… a “primitive power”…(para. 89). God’s love is a “creative force” (para 198). God’s creative force is love, bringing forth the soul through love. Jung says:
“the procreative urge– which is how love must be regarded from the natural standpoint– remains the essential attribute of the God (para.87).
And it is on the darkest nights of winter that God’s creative urges wells up to give birth to his child: the divine child. Christ is God’s child. But God is not alone. God is always with the mother, through she may be hidden or transparent. Jung says:
“The God-image is a complex of ideas of an archetypal nature, it must necessarily be regarded as representing a certain sum of energy (libido) which appears in projection. In most of the existing religions it seems that the formative factor which creates the attributes of divinity is the father-imago, while in the older religions it was the mother imago… In certain pagan conceptions of divinity the maternal element is strongly emphasized.” (para. 89)
At times culture favors the father, at times the mother. But nevertheless, they together are the two ‘formative factors’ of psychic life. Jung says:
“How am I to be creative? Nature knows only one answer to that: Through a child (the gift of love).” (para 76)
The child is born, ‘the gift of love.’ Nature births us into world. The divine couple births the soul into the eternal. In the Christian myth, the divine child is born from the virgin womb of the mother Mary. In 431 the Council of Ephesus said that Mary is Theotokos: “God-bearer”, “Birth-Giver of God”, “the one who gives birth to God.” God and the mother are the two ‘formative factors’ within psychic life that give birth to the Self.
The divine couple births us into divine world. These are psychic facts. Jung says: “God dwells in the heart, in the unconscious” (para. 89). In the footnote Jung adds: “The psychic fact “God” is a typical autonomism, a collective archetype.” The two Greek words, “auto-nomos”, speak to a God which lives by his/her own rule. God is within the unconscious, and yet autonomous, living by his own rule within our hearts.
Here, within our hearts, God procreates with the Mother, the divine vessel, giving birth to a possibility: call it the divine child, the potential of the soul. This divine birth within is no easy task. There is something within us that wants to kill it off, a murderous instinct within psychic life. The revelation of the divine child is so disastrous, so threatening to the old guard, that it must be killed. According to the Gospel of Matthew 2:16–18, Herod ordered the execution of all babies in Bethlehem, desiring to assure the death of the divine child.
[Herod] “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
The divine child must outlive the murderous instincts of the superego. Our soul must survive the murderous rage of the envious tyrant who seems to rule the inner world. The murderous superego does not believe in the potential of the Self. He does not trust in the good, in the enduring. It is our spiritual labor to protect the child. To be like Joseph, listening to the angels, protecting the child.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13–15)
Joseph sees the angel of the Lord, and the angel says that he must flee Egypt, symbol of tyranny. We must leave behind the tyranny of Herod ruled by fear, finding a place for the birth of Self.