nature of the Self: theory, image & archetype
Life energy moves through all living things. A seed sprouts, growing and becoming a tree, blossoming and bearing fruit. As long as the tree is healthy and without disease its life energy will follow a path. This is not a scientific declaration, but a poetic one: energy creates transformations in form.
In human terms, we call this energy ‘libido.’ The potential transformations of our energy are shaped by ‘libidinal’ desire: our instincts animate us, drive us. Our desire moves us to seek an object; in pure form libido moves us to seek out an other, not as object but subject. To sit quietly with oneself is to begin to notice the desire arising within oneself. We are relational beings, often seeking affection, approval, and satisfaction of our emotional desires. Throughout the course of life our libidinal desire may transform, from seeking objects into knowing a subject, and from knowing a subject into knowing the Subject. These are the secrets of Eros: just as life energy transforms a seed into a fruit bearing tree and the fruit offers nourishment to other beings, so too love holds the potential to transform the living soul into spiritual fruitfulness. The soul blossoms into the fruit of a life, an offering to the eternal. This is the gift of love, born of a sacred inner marriage.
The form of our love, the path of our Eros, transforms each of us uniquely. Transformations in our love delineate a path of growth for the living soul. Such transformations in love are fundamentally bound to a capacity for relationality. Transformation of the soul requires the capacity to seek and love living forms and symbols. With this capacity, our desire may transform from bodily form to symbolic form, seeking living symbols of the sacred.
In infancy, our desire is oriented toward the mother’s affections. From the first moments of life the baby seeks out the breast. The infant’s mouth suckles, calling out to the mother. This desire later transforms to a desire for the mother’s emotional affection, and then to a desire for the father’s affections or attention. Desire for the love of our personal father may transform into symbolic idealizations of cultural fathers. If so, as our libido shifts, we begin to seek symbolic relationships: the ideas of community leaders, church fathers, Gurus become significant in our life and imagination. In an important passage Jung sets the stage for an understanding:
“The strong and natural love that binds the child to the father turns away, during the years when the child is outgrowing the family circle, to the higher forms of the father, to authority, to the “Fathers” of the Church and to the father-god visibly represented by them. Nevertheless, mythology is not lacking in consolations. Did not the Word become flesh? And did not the divine pneuma enter into the Virgin’s womb? The whirlwind of Anaxagoras was that same divine nous that produced the world out of itself. Why do we cherish the image of the Immaculate Mother even to this day?” (CW8, para. 76)
This movement of libido is a movement of ascension: energy moves upward from the personal father, toward the collective fathers, then to a father God. This is only a first phase in the movement of life energy, as libido is sublimated from desire for a personal relationship with others toward a relationship with the symbolic other, as an eternal living symbol. The transformations of our love are guided by and through fatherly images: the soul seeks a relationship to the light, the energy, the love of the divine father. The divine father guides us in our spiritual development. Carl Jung’s text Symbols of Transformation will illuminate the many images and forms of God’s love, light, and energy. Images of God spontaneously appear within psychic life, as ‘psychic facts.’ Jung says:
“The God-image thrown up by a spontaneous act of creation is a living figure, a being that exists in its own right and there-fore confronts its ostensible creator autonomously… As proof of this it may be mentioned that the relation between the creator and the created is a dialectical” (CW8, para. 95-96).
In a footnote Jung adds:
“The psychic fact “God” is a typical autonomism, a collective archetype… It is therefore characteristic not only of all higher forms of religion, but appears spontaneously in the dreams of individuals” (CW8, fn 29).
God is a psychic fact. God is the guiding light and love for the soul: “The language of religion defines God as ‘love'” (para. 98). Myths, images, forms, sense, ‘spontaneous acts of creation’, offer ways of knowing God. This is a dialectical relation between creator and created. Forming this dialectical relation is labor of the soul.
But such realization, such relation, is not the end of our spiritual journey, there is still another horizon to open, another Other to know. As Jung says ‘mythology is not lacking in consolations’: the Word becomes flesh, the divine pneuma enters into the Virgin’s womb, the images of the Immaculate Mother. Such myths hint to the secret and hidden aspect of psychic life. We will need the light of God to reveal such hidden truths. For the soul transforms in and through our capacity to see the unseen, to know the unknown. The soul seeks to love beyond body, or form, or figure. And in return receives the compassion and solace of ‘the Mother’.
Jung asks “And did not the divine pneuma enter into the Virgin’s womb?” The word pneuma is from the Greek pneûma, meaning ‘breath, wind.’ In the bible we find that pneuma is an essential component of spiritual life. John 3:5 says: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit (pneuma), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” God breathes into us. It is this breath, this spirit of God that shall lead. Note here too, a dialectics of the soul. Not only are we guided by God’s breath, the pneuma, but we must be born of water as well. Here too, we touch upon the hidden compassion of the mother, rebirth in the divine waters.
Pneuma, the breath of God, guides the soul. The breath of God leads us on a path of archetypal integration, toward discovering a divine union in ourselves and in all things of heaven and earth. This is the Hieros Gamos, a sacred marriage of the Self. The breath of God leads us toward an understanding, a revelation: the soul’s realization of who it is and why it is here, known at that unitive moment when the divine pneuma enters into the Virgin’s womb. It is here in the consoling embrace of the mother that all of the labors of spirit are complete, and the calcifications of spirit’s austerity are dissolved. The husk is cast off and the soul reborn into a divine realm, not as a separate world, but as the world of Self seen with new eyes.
This is not a path for everyone. It is not a path of icons or idealizations. To know the sacred marriage one has to release the handholds of ordinary everyday thinking. One has to enter into imaginal and relational modes of knowing, letting the dream-life guide the process of the soul’s development. With this we hold the potential to fructify the seed of our soul, to ‘become fruitful.’ Jung speaks to the potential:
“With personalities who are obviously capable of intellectual effort, the prospect of spiritual fruitfulness is something worthy of their highest aspirations, and for many people it is actually a vital necessity. This other side of the fantasy also explains the excitement, for we are concerned here with a thought that contains a presentiment of the future-one of those thoughts which, to quote Maeterlinck, spring from the “inconscient superieur,” from the “prospective potency” of a subliminal synthesis” (CW8, para 78).
‘Spiritual fruitfulness’ is something worthy of our highest aspirations. It includes the ascension and transformations of libido, creating a ‘prospective potency.’ This ascension is represented by the archetypal movements of ‘divine pneuma’ and the creative prodigality which life offers the soul. Yet again, Jung offers a dialectical twist: this potency occurs through a ‘subliminal synthesis’. It is born of unitive love, a synthesis occurring below the threshold consciousness. These dialectical moments of spirit appear to form the deepest poetics of psychic life. They are the foundation of all creative acts. They form the basis of the transformation of the living soul into the eternal, they are the gift of love.
With this subtle realization, Jung is pointing to the teleological aims of the living soul. Beyond the truth or falsity of a metaphysical God, the God image offers a teleological purpose within psychic life. The God image points to the aims and purpose of psychic life: guiding us in our process of spiritual development. Jung says:
“There are no “purposeless” psychic processes; that is to say, it is a hypothesis of the greatest heuristic value that the psyche is essentially purposive and directed” (CW8, para. 90).
God images are purposive and directive. They guide the soul in the process of transformation. Jung adds:
“Were there not a secret purposiveness bound up with the supposedly devious path of the libido or with the supposed repression it is certain that such a process could not take place so easily, so naturally, and so spontaneously” (CW8, para. 91).
Here we meet with a divine irony. Through the inner guidance of the God image, we are led to the highest image: the “most high,” the “Almighty,” the “eternal one.” With the realization of the highest image we now hold the potential for the most sacred of creative acts: knowing the deep truth that exists beyond all images or icons This the visionary moment, a ‘hierophany.’
Hierophany is from the Greek roots “ἱερός” (hieros), meaning “sacred” or “holy,” and “φαίνειν” meaning “to reveal” or “to bring to light.’ Through transformations of love, we bring to light a primal relationality between God as the light of awareness and the Mother as a fertile unknown. The soul is reborn and transfigured in this revelation, as the revelation of the Self.
Carl Jung, Cw 5, Symbols of Transformation (in US Pubic Domain, first published 1912)