Shadows and Light: religion is a vital link with psychic processes

Christ is tempted by the devil. The painting in the church of Hauho in Häme, Finland, is now ruined. Painted in the middle age. From Kari Tarkiainen: Sveriges Österland, p. 277. US public domain, wikimedia
Christ is tempted by the devil. The painting in the church of Hauho in Häme, Finland, is now ruined. Painted in the middle ages. From Kari Tarkiainen: Sveriges Österland, p. 277. US public domain, wikimedia

Carl Jung is so bold as to tell us: “Religion is a vital link with psychic processes independent of and beyond consciousness, in the dark hinterland of the psyche…” (Carl Jung, CW 9I, para. 262). Religion affects psyche and psyche affects religion.

Of all symbolic pairs, a most basic, a most enduring one is the struggle between the forces of darkness and light, between the unconscious (darkness) and consciousness (light). Psyche seeks to come into greater light and awareness. Absolute awareness, in symbolic terms, is a union with the pure infinite light of God, as union with the eternal truth. As a potential, it has many names: enlightenment, Self-realization, revelation, divine illumination, kenosis, or more simply salvation.

In almost all religions, the living possibility of unification with the deity is preceded by a confrontation with the darkness. This confrontation with darkness is not a literal confrontation, but a symbolic one. It is a confrontation with our own greed, envy, pride.

In the Bible, Christ is tempted by the devil. First the devil tests Christ’s spiritual will? ‘Can you endure the hunger or will you use your powers for your own self-satisfaction?’ Then the devil tests Christ’s pride: ‘If you are so great then throw yourself down?’ And finally, the devil tests Christs attachments to the object world: ‘All this I will give you.’

The image above is from the middle ages: we see Christ tempted by the Devil, representing the confrontation of psychic forces. The story of the temptation of Christ is told in the Gospels of Mathew (4:1-11):

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Jesus answered, ‘t is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands,  so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Reference:

Carl Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i  (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1)