Baby Ganesha: divine child as image of enlightenment

 Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha as Divine Child by Raja Ravi Varma. UNknown date (about 50 years old). US public Domain via wikimedia.
Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha as Divine Child by Raja Ravi Varma. Unknown date. US public Domain via wikimedia.

In the image above, we see the Divine Child in the form of Ganesha. The Sanskrit word Ganesha is from gana meaning “multitude” and isha  meaning lord “lord” [1]. Ganesha is half elephant and half human. In the image, Ganesha sits on his mother’s lap. She is Parvati the goddess of love, strength, and spiritual power. Ganesha’s father is Shiva, the great destroyer of ignorance and the image of the supreme Self. The Divine Child Ganesha is born of a divine polarity: the cosmic father and mother as the two poles of the comic Self.

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Divine Child: symbol of the soul’s fulfillment

German nativity scene with depiction of Trinity (God the Father and dove of Holy Spirit accompanying the Christ child and Madonna- C. 15th Century. US public domain via wikimedia.
German nativity scene with depiction of Trinity (God the Father and dove of Holy Spirit accompanying the Christ child and Madonna- C. 15th Century. US public domain via wikimedia.

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.

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 our own soul. He does not trust in the good, in the enduring.  He cannot see the soul’s potential: the child of the divine mother and father. 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 soul’s birth, and protecting the soul so that it may grow.


  1. Psychology and Religion (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 12)
  2. Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 5)




Hiranyagarbha: the golden egg

Hiranyagarbha The Golden Embryo by Artist Vidya Devi and Dhirendra Jha, with permission from Exotic Indian Art

In the image above, we see Hiranyagarbha. Hiraṇyagarbha means the ‘golden womb’ or ‘golden egg’. It is also called the universal germ of creation. Carl Jung likens Hiraṇyagarbha to the “phenomenology of the child’s birth” saying:

“The ‘child’s’ birth always points back to an original psychological state of non-recognition, i.e., of darkness or twilight, of non-differentiation between subject and object, of unconscious identity of man and the universe.” (CW 9i, para 290)

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Atman and the Child Archetype

In Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung notes a connection between the divine child and ‘atman’. Jung says:

“The size and invincibility of the “child” are bound up in Hindu speculation with the nature of the atman [from a Sanskrit word that means ‘the Self’] , which corresponds to the “smaller than small yet bigger than big” motif. As an individual phenomenon, the self is “smaller than small”; as the equivalent of the cosmos, it is “bigger than big.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para 289)

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Ganesha Panchayatana: the child as archetype as wholeness

Ganesha Pachayatana. Ganesha with Shiva, Devi (Parvati), Vishnu and Surya- circa 1800. US Public Domain via Wikimedia
Ganesha Panchayatana.  circa 1800. US Public Domain via Wikimedia

Ganesha is an image of the supreme Self as deity; and, he is an image of enlightenment as the divine child.

In the painting above, we see the Ganesha Panchayatana. The Pañcāyatana pūja is a form of worship introduced by Adi Shankara, in the 8th century. In the center of the image, we find Ganesha surrounded by four deities: Shiva, Devi (Parvati), Vishnu and Surya. Adi Shankara, philosopher and theologian, understood that all deities are images or forms of the supreme Self (known as Brahman). In this painting, Ganesha is the central image and thus an image of the supreme Self.

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