Self-realization as revealed in art, symbol & sacred text: the archetypes of Carl Jung & the lore of enlightenment
The word ‘psychology’ is rooted in the word psyche. Psyche is from Greek psykhe “the soul, mind, spirit; breath.” It is unfortunate that the field of psychology has moved away from its glorious roots, loosing contact with the soul. Depth psychologist, James Hillman understand this. He calls on us to “speak for the soul” (p. 161). In doing so he is aware of the difficulty of such a task…
According to Hillman, psychopathology rejects the soul and the soul’s language, “calling it pejorative names” (p.161). Psychology developed out of the “rationalism and scientific materialism of the nineteenth century” (Carl Jung,CW5, p. xxiii). Such a perspective offers little respect for ideas as subtle as the soul or Self-realization. Bound to a ‘materialistic’ perspective, such a view misses out on the ‘animistic’ basis of psychic life.
The word animism is derived from the Latin word anima, “life, breath, soul.” If we view the psyche only from a materialistic viewpoint, we may miss out on soul of the psyche, losing a view of the transformative potential of the soul. Here, I quote a passage in full from Symbols of Transformation. I quote this passage in full because it forms a starting point for an understanding of the soul’s potential for transformation:
“Psychological truth by no means excludes metaphysical truth, though psychology, as a science, has to hold aloof from all metaphysical assertions. Its subject is the psyche and its contents. Both are realities, because they work. We do not possess a physics of the soul, and are not even able to observe it and judge it from some Archimedean point “outside” ourselves, and can therefore know nothing objective about it since all knowledge of the psyche is itself psychic, in spite of all this the soul is the only experient of life and existence. It is, in fact, the only immediate experience we can have and the sine qua non the subjective reality of the world. The symbols it creates are always grounded in the unconscious archetype, but their manifest forms are moulded by the ideas acquired by the conscious mind. The archetypes are the numinous, structural elements of the psyche and possess a certain autonomy and specific energy which enables them to attract, out of the conscious mind, those contents which are best suited to themselves. The symbols act as transformers, their function being to convert libido from a “lower” into a “higher” form. This function is so important that feeling accords it the highest values. The symbol works by suggestion; that is to say, it carries conviction and at the same time expresses the content of that conviction. It is able to do this because of the numen, the specific energy stored up in the archetype. Experience of the archetype is not only impressive, it seizes and possesses the whole personality, and is naturally productive of faith” (para. 344).
Psychology approaches psychic life from an objective level– attempting to classify and treat disorders of the psyche, helping individuals to lead more adaptive lives. Beyond adaptation, there is another aim to psychic life– transformation of the soul. While these aims are not mutually elusive, they proffer different (yet interrelated) perspectives. Psychology attempts to create a science of psychic life; the path of soul attempts an understanding of the transformations of the soul.
From Carl Jung’s perspective the transformations of the soul are teleological. The word teleological comes from Latin word télos, meaning the ‘consummated goal.‘ The soul ask us to trust in life. Life offers transformations in the field of being, toward a ‘consummated goal.‘ The soul’s transformations are expressed through acts of creative imagination: through our narrations, through our dreams and personal storytelling.
Over 100 years ago Freud and Jung engaged in a stormy debate regarding the nature of psychic life, each seeing the psyche from a different perspective. Their two perspectives revolved around two basic viewpoints on psychic life: the egoic and the transpersonal. Freud’s understanding was focused on the development of the ego, focusing on ego development taking place within the first half of life. Jung’s psychology was focused on archetypal elements, and his reading of myths went beyond ego, into transpersonal and archetypal motifs. For Jung the transpersonal aspects of psychic life were collective and biological, arising from evolutionary determinants. To speak for the soul requires that we move beyond the limited frame of reductionary science, going beyond ego development– and beyond evolutionary biology as well.
To speak for the soul requires that understand how the various archetypal forms elucidate the transformational potential of the soul. In reading Carl Jung’s writings, my imagination takes me into the narrative fields of the soul. Archetypal forms (objects) form the inter-relational web of soul. The living soul is embedded in a web of (object) relationality. The particular arrangement of the archetypes in psychic life proffer basic principles which guide the soul in development throughout the lifetime.
As Jung says in the passage above, “symbols act as transformers, their function being to convert libido from a “lower” into a “higher” form. He adds, “It is able to do this because of the numen, the specific energy stored up in the archetype.” The soul is always in relation to inner numinous forms which, if respected, guide the soul in psychical development. Dreams, imagination, narrations offer access to our inner (object) relations. A dedication to understanding the archetypal forms and their relationship to the transformations of the soul is an essential part of the path of soul.
From this perspective, Jung becomes an interpreter of the soul: decoding the complex hieroglyphic language of the soul’s transformation. In order to understand the living soul, we need reverence for the soul’s communion: for ‘creative imagination.’ Carl Jung’s writing elucidates the archetypal forms found in dreams, myth, and creative imagination, showing how that they offer guidance to the soul.
Jung is not alone in his task. There have been a few others who understand the distinction between the literal world of materiality and the symbolic world of the soul. Henry Corbin speaks of “the world of the Image, the mundus imaginalis,” focusing on the symbolic perspective of the soul.
It is “a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect, a world that requires a faculty of perception belonging to it, a faculty that is a cognitive function, a noetic value, as fully real as the faculties of sensory perception or intellectual intuition. This faculty is the imaginative power, the one we must avoid confusing with the imagination that modern man identifies with “fantasy” and that, according to him, produces only the ‘imaginary.’”
Corbin delineates an imaginal sphere separate from an egoic fantasy sphere. All fantasy is egoic fantasy, fundamentally in relationship to egoic material desires. The mundus imaginalis transcends such egoic desires. The mundus imaginalis is the realm of the soul: in the imagination, archetypal coordinates are discovered on the path of soul.
In Myth of Analysis James Hillman says that “Freud’s Psychology, and Jung’s, and analysis itself all arise from the ontological ground of pathological imagination” (1972, p. 172). How can psychology speak for the soul if the soul’s language is seen as pathological?
From the perspective of soul, it is the fantasy relationship of the ego toward the soul that may become pathological. The soul is never pathological. Meister Eckhart said that the “soul is an image of God” (cited in Jung, CW 5 para. 424). The soul’s instincts and aims are fundamentally linked to the God image. In archetypal terms the soul holds an “intermediate position” within the inner psychic world (CW5, para. 425). She is the “mediatrix to the eternally unknowable” (Hillman, p.133). The soul guides us beyond what is known into the unknown: toward the ‘mother of all.’ The soul guides us on a journey into the great mystery of life, speaking her imaginal language of transformation through dreams and imagination. She is the imaginal form of God.
The desires of the soul can never be fully understood in objective, adaptive terms. The aims of the soul are eternally unknowable, and yet psychically significant. To speak for the soul requires that we trust in the deepest spiritual instincts of the soul, allowing the soul to be our guide through transformations in unknown.