Are the gods real?

Do we worship the same gods?

Over at Patheos, Star Foster recently published an interesting post on the “Problem of the Personal Experience”.  In it she explains that she recently turned down the opportunity to edit a devotional anthology to the god Hephaistos, who she worships.  She writes: “The reason I couldn’t do it is because I have very strong personal relationship with Hephaistos. And all of those submissions bore little relevance to my personal relationship to him.”  She goes on to explain that many of the submissions were beautiful, but she could not relate to them.  To give some context, Star is a hard polytheist or deity-centered Pagan who believes that Hephaistos “truly exists” in the same way that evangelical Christians, for example, believe in their God, and she has developed a personal relationship with Hephaistos.

Although Star didn’t take her essay in this direction, I think her experience raises interesting questions about the objectiveness of polytheistic deities.  Now, mind you, I know many polytheistic Pagans have had the opposite experience.  In fact, one person, Anthony Hart-Jones, said so in the comments.  Anthony writes that he developed a personal relationship with the Morrigan.  When Anthony met another person who followed the Morrigan, he says their “mental images” bore only a passing resemblance, but the “personality” was the same.

But what happens when two people who worship the same god or goddess meet up and realize that they have very different conceptions of the deity?  Are they worshiping the same god?  Or two gods with the same name?

Our god of many faces

Over at PaganSquare, Hellenic Pagan Elani Temperance recently wrestled with the same issue in the context of a discussion of “unverified personal gnosis” or UPG:

“On the one hand, I believe, with every fiber of my being, in the knowledge I have been made privy of by the Gods. I believe in my experiences and they are sacred to me. They run anywhere from synchronicious events to detailed biographies and some of them I will never share with anyone, they were that special. Throughout my practice, I have allowed UGP to push me forward in my path. [...]

“On the other hand, there is UPG out there that contradicts mine, that I personally think is completely incorrect or that questions everything I believe in. Needless to say, this is UPG I struggle with. I can’t view it as invalid; I respect everyone’s path too much for that, but where does it fit in with my believes? We are talking about the same Gods, right?”

(emphasis added).

Which Hecate am I talking to today?

From a polytheistic perspective, there are ways to explain this.  If the gods are persons, then it is possible for the gods to interact with different people in different way, to present different “faces”, as it were — just as we ourselves present different “faces” to different people.  In fact, we sometimes speak as if we are different people in different situations or with different company.  Perhaps this is true of the gods as well.

But is there another explanation?  Is it possible to provide an account for polytheistic experience that is consistent with a naturalistic premise?  Is there a naturalistic explanation for polytheistic experience that does not pathologize the experience and is consistent with polytheists’ own descriptions of their experiences?

Gods as Archetypes

Both Jung and “archetypes” have fallen out of favor in contemporary Pagan discourse, but I believe that is because Jung’s ideas have been watered down so that the term “archetype” has (incorrectly) become synonymous with “metaphor”.  In this Jung-lite approach, the archetypal gods understood as mere metaphors for nature.  But this is not what Jung had in mind when he spoke of archetypes.

The archetypes, according to Jung (in his mature thought), are “dynamic, instinctual complexes which determine psychic life.” (“Psychological Commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Collected Works, vol. 11).  Jung saw the “gods” as anthropomorphic projections of the archetypes.  The archetypes for Jung are ineffable and practically inexhaustible, characteristics that correlate with divine categories.   Jung writes, “Psychologically speaking, the domain of ‘gods’ begins where consciousness leaves off [...]”  (“A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity”, Collected Works, vol. 11).  He explains that the ruling powers of the psyche compels “the same belief or fear, submission or devotion which a God would demand from [humankind].”

“[...] we seldom find anybody who is not influenced and indeed dominated by desires, habits, impulses, prejudices, resentments, and by every conceivable kind of complex. All these natural facts function exactly like an Olympus full of deities who want to be propitiated, served, feared and worshipped, not only by the individual owner of this assorted pantheon, but by everybody in his vicinity.”  (“The History and Psychology of a Natural Symbol”, Collected Works, vol. 11).

The archetypes are not metaphors.  They are form without content, potentialities rather than actualities.  Their existence can only be inferred from our experience of archetypal images, which are necessarily only partial expressions of the archetype.

Archetypes as “Other”

For Jung, the most powerful religious experiences are archetypal experiences.  This was not a reductive claim, as Jung believed that the religious quest was the most meaningful aspect of human experience.  Archetypal experience is “numinous”, a term Jung borrowed from Rudolf Otto.  According to Otto, the essential characteristic of the “numinous” is that it is mysterious or “wholly other”.  The archetypal experience, then, is an experience, to one degree or another, of “otherness” within our own subjectivity.  Jung described the power of the archetypes to fascinate, possess, and overcome us.

In the New Testament, for example, Paul spoke of “another law” at work within him.  (Romans 7:15-23).  Jung himself spoke of another “will” operating within him.  He speaks of the experience of “spontaneous agencies”, and of “elements in ourselves which are strange to us”.  And he describes the consciousness as being surrounded by “a multitude of little luminosities” or quasi-consciousnesses.  (“On the Nature of the Psyche”, Collected Works, volume 8).

While the empiricist in him preferred the terms “unconscious” and “archetypes”, Jung explains that “God” and “daimon” are synonyms for the unconscious which convey the numinosity, the “otherness”, of the experience better:

“[Humankind] cannot grasp, comprehend, dominate them [numinous experiences]; nor can he free himself or escape from them, and therefore feels them as overpowering. Recognizing that they do not spring from his conscious personality, he calls them mana, daimon, or God. [...] Therefore the validity of such terms as mana, daimon, or God can be neither disproved nor affirmed. We can, however, establish that the sense of strangeness connected with the experience of something objective, apparently outside the psyche, is indeed authentic.

We know that something unknown, alien, does come our way, just as we know that we do not ourselves make a dream or an inspiration, but that it somehow arises of its own accord. What does happen to us in this manner can be said to emanate from mana, from a daimon, a god, or the unconscious. The first three terms have the great merit of including and evoking the emotional quality of numinosity, whereas the latter the unconscious is banal and therefore closer to reality. [...] The unconscious is too neutral and rational a term to give much impetus to the imagination. [...]

“The great advantage of the concepts ‘daimon’ and ‘God lies in making possible a much better objectification of the vis-a-vis, namely, a personification of it. Their emotional quality confers life and effectuality upon them.”

(italics added).

The Experience of the Archetypes

Sometimes archetypal experiences arise out of contact with wild nature, in which case they may be identified with objects in nature, as when we name a place with the name of deity.  (Perhaps this is how animism first arose.)  Other times, archetypal experiences occur in the context of religious ritual, in which case they may be identified with the paraphernalia of the ritual.  (This may be how totemism first arose.)  In both these cases, the archetypal image may be equated with some object separate from us.  But archetypal experiences do not always occur through interaction with an object.  Sometimes, as in the case of dreams or active imagination, there is no external referent.  (This may explain how spiritualism first arose.)

Regarding his own experimentation with active imagination (the subject of a future post), Jung wrote:

“Philemon [Jung's personal image of the "Wise Old Man" archetype] and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force that was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. [...] I understood that there is something in me which can say things that I do not know and do not intend, things which may even be directed against me. [...]  Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality.” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections).

Philemon from Jung’s Red Book

Jung’s description of his own encounter with the archetypes here is fascinating from a polytheistic perspective.  Jung acknowledges that his experience of an archetype was of a personality, something separate from what he identified as “I”.  This experience of otherness within one’s own subjectivity can manifest in subtle ways such as inspiration, and in less subtle ways such as divine revelation, schizophrenia, or even so-called “spirit possession”.  It should be evident that we are not speaking of mere metaphors here.

“Although everything is experienced in image form, i.e., symbolically, it is by no means a question of fictitious dangers but of very real risks upon which the fate of a whole life may depend. The chief danger is that of succumbing to the fascinating influence of the archetypes, and this is most likely to happen when the archetypal images are not made conscious. If there is already a predisposition to psychosis, it may even happen that the archetypal figures, which are endowed with a certain autonomy anyway on account of their natural numinosity, will escape from conscious control altogether and become completely independent, thus producing the phenomena of possession.”  (“Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious”, Collected Works, vol. 9).

Jung could describe divine visitation and spirit possession as psychological, because for him the psyche was both more capacious and less unitary than what we ordinarily think of as the mind. It is indeed a “cosmos”.  So is Jung saying it’s “all in our heads”?  Yes.  But, as Lon Milo Duquette writes, “you just have no idea how big your head is.”  Jung explains:

“… the individual imagines that he has caught the [unconscious] psyche and holds her in the hollow of his hand. He is even making a science of her in the absurd supposition that the intellect, which is but a part and a function of the psyche, is sufficient to comprehend the much greater whole. In reality the psyche is the mother and the maker, the subject and even the possibility of consciousness itself. It reaches so far beyond the boundaries of consciousness that the latter could easily be compared to an island in the ocean. Whereas the island is small and narrow, the ocean is immensely wide and deep and contains a life infinitely surpassing, in kind and degree, anything known on the island so that if it is a question of space, it does not matter whether the gods are ‘inside’ or ‘outside.’”

The Nature of the Archetypes

Jung’s view on the ontological nature of the archetypes is notoriously difficult to nail down.  For one thing, his views evolved over his career, so it is possible to pull contradictory statements out of different works.  For another, Jung’s writing is rarely a model of scientific clarity.  But perhaps the most important reason is because he intentionally maintained a certain ambiguity on this issue.  Charles D. Laughlin writes:

“I believe that the ambiguity was necessitated by Jung’s inability to scientifically reconcile his conviction that the archetypes are at once embodied structures and bear the imprint of the divine; that is, the archetypes are both structures within the human body, and represent the domain of spirit.  Jung’s intention was clearly a unitary one, and yet his ontology seemed often to be dualistic, as well as persistently ambiguous, and was necessarily so because the science of his day could not envision a non-dualistic conception of spirit and matter.” (“Archetypes, Neurognosis, and the Quantum Sea”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 10, no. 3 (1996)).

For Jung, the archetypes have both a material aspect (brain) and a non-material aspect (experience).  New Age writers have a tendency to describe the archetypes as if they are Platonic forms, but Jung considered himself an empiricist and insisted on the biological nature of the archetypes:

“They [the archetypes] are inherited with the brain structure – indeed they are its psychic aspect. [...] They are thus [...] that portion through which the psyche is attached to nature, or in which its link with the earth and the world appears at its most tangible.”  (“Mind and Earth”, Collected Works, vol. 10).

In spite of his commitment to empiricism, Jung rejected reductive forms of materialism.  On the other hand, Jung also sought to avoid the opposite problem of psychologism, which reduced the gods to illusions.  For Jung, the material and non-material aspects of the archetypes are two different aspects of the same thing, seen from two perspectives, one objective and one subjective.  In philosophical terms, Jung was a “neutral monist” and adopted a “double aspect theory” to explain the relationship between the physical and the psychic.

In Jung’s view, the “gods” are term for the subjective experience of the archetypes.  And Jung believed this was the only meaningful way to speak about gods.  So, if I were to ask if the gods are “objectively real”, I would have to say “no” — at least not in the sense in which rocks, and dirt, and the sun are real.  In Jung’s view, it makes no sense to speak of the gods apart from our own experience of them.

“… it is not possible to maintain any non-psychological doctrine about the gods. If the historical process of world despiritualization continues as hitherto, then everything of a divine or daemonic character out side us must return to the psyche, to the inside of the unknown man, whence it apparently originated.”  (“The History and Psychology of a Natural Symbol”, Collected Works, vol. 11).

If human beings ceased to exist, then so would the gods.  The gods have no ontological status apart from us.  They have no transcendental referent.  While they sometimes arise through our interaction with the world, this is not necessary.  They may be a purely internal experience.

Polytheism and the Archetypes

Jungian theory explains why the experience one polytheist of a certain deity devotee could diverge from another’s.  But it also explains why they are the sometimes the same, why Anthony’s experience (above) resembled that of another worshiper of the Morrigan.  The answer is what Jung called the “collective unconscious”.  The “collective unconscious” is a term which has been much abused and misunderstood, but I believe it can be explained from a naturalistic perspective.

In Affective Neuroscience (1998), neuroscientist and psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp writes:

“… our brains resemble old museums that contain many of the archetypal markings of our evolutionary past. … Our brains are full of ancestral memories and processes that guide our actions and dreams but rarely emerge unadulterated by cortico-cultural influences during our everyday activities.”

This statement could easily have been written by Jung, instead of a neuroscientist.  Because we share a biology and because groups of us share certain cultural conditioning, we can expect that certain of archetypal experiences will be similar in two people who have not interacted before.  This is why we find similar motifs in the mythology of cultures separated by time and space, and this is why Anthony’s experience (above) resembles that of other devotees of the Morrigan.

Jung’s theory of the gods is, I believe, consistent with polytheist’s own descriptions of their experiences.  Polytheists often describe the gods as needing human worship to give them existence, something like an egregore.  I first encountered this idea expressed in the a 1967 episode of Star Trek titled “Who Mourns for Adonis?”, and later in Neil Gaiman’s 2001 book American Gods.  (I have a theory that Gaiman’s book may have had a direct influence on the growth of hard polytheism in the Pagan community.)  Perhaps the idea of egregores can be seen as polytheists’ way of acknowledging the subjectivity of gods.  While some polytheists insist on the objectivity of their deities, I have seen more say that the question is irrelevant to them.

Still, to speak about the gods as subjective may seem reductive to some polytheists.  When the world is examined through the objective lens of science, I maintain that the gods are absent.  But, of course, this is also true of many other human experiences, like love, awe, and self-transcendence — experiences which many people describe as the most “real” experiences of their lives.  A neuroscientist may reduce any of these experiences to biochemical reactions or light spots on an MRI, but such an explanation does not fully account for the experience.  Something is missing from the purely objective description which the poet tries to express through words, an artist through paint or other media, the musician through an instrument, the dancer through movement, and the contemporary Pagan through ritual and myth.

I have written elsewhere about the need to emphasize the “otherness” of the archetypes.  Jung warned against identification with the archetypes, which he called “inflation”.  By emphasizing the otherness of the gods, we avoid reducing them to mere metaphors and we preserve the sense of danger that arises from interacting with the gods.  On the other hand, it is possible to overemphasize the otherness of the gods, and this is what I believe polytheists do when they insist that their gods exist as distinct beings.  What Christian theologian R. H. J. Steuart wrote about the Christian God could just as well have been written about polytheistic deities:

“We are obliged to preserve the concept of the ‘otherness’ of God [or the gods] from ourselves even though we cannot use it without distorting or at least wrongly stressing it. [...] It is an otherness which not only does not exclude but positively (just because it is what it is) includes and demands oneness — a oneness, indeed, which is actually more real and intimate than what we would normally describe as identification.”

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  • thefirstdark

    Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

    • Kelley Shelton

      Hello John, Forgive me if I am off topic, but it is early and I am
      going to give this my best shot. I am probably not going to use a lot
      of Jung terms so forgive me if what I say sounds unpsychological
      (which is kind of funny since Social Science and Mental Health are my
      fields of study). Rick James was once quoted on a comedy show as
      saying Cocaine was he h*ll of a drug. On that light note I will
      begin, I feel like the mind is a very powerful thing. As humans we
      tend to project our humanity on everything from our pets to depictions
      in cartoons. So I think in part when we are first introduced/exposed
      to a God/Goddess concept either in a book, drawing, statue, etc…, if
      we have an emotional reaction, we state putting together in our minds
      a way to understand such things. Let’s say Odin (picked because he is
      one of my personal favorites), I think that I saw something in a
      modern contemporary picture of him by Georg von Rosen
      ( I think my mind saw the picture
      and took my own personal mental stash of feelings and experiences and
      started to flesh out him as a character. And as this fleshing out
      starts to go, he becomes in my own mind a All Father like to books
      say. He takes on parts of my experience of my own dad and my
      grandfather and other people whom I have had a close relationship
      with, like pieces of a puzzle, all of the good parts and things make
      him to me real, although it is all in my head. So from there when I
      see this picture, I can imagine or even meditate and form a
      relationship with MY Odin. Now to someone else, this same picture or
      image might construct a completely different Odin very different from
      mine. After talking about these same subjects with another pagan
      friend who is a psychiatrist, he stated that he believed that he
      thinks that the Original Odin was a real flesh and blood person who
      was probably a tribal leader and great warrior who as his stories and
      tales are told and added on to he was elevated from tribal ancestor to
      a God (as with every other diety out there) (in my friends opinion,
      which is kind of where I am at). He stated that going from being a
      theist to a religious humanist (with pagan tendencies (his term not
      mine), he stated that he is of the opinion that we have different
      relationships with the same thing. Kind of like my dad had a totally
      different relationship with my mom than I have with my mom, though she
      is the same lady. She just two totally different roles in this
      example. So I would say are they real, well yes. You see in my book
      they are because of this one fact which as I have state that both I
      and my friend firmly believe. Take for example my dad. He died in
      2006 of a heart attack, so in the real world, my dad does not exist,
      he is dead and buried. But in my mind, he is still very much real and
      alive, but in a much different way. He is in my thoughts and through
      random patterns and experiences my mind connects the dots and sees
      patterns that are really not there, but for me they are. The mind is
      a powerful thing, it creates patterns for all of us, it connects the
      dots for us, makes 1+1=?. So when I talk to my mom about my dad or
      even my little brother, sometimes I hear them talk of someone who
      sounds very alien, but similar to the man I know as my dad. I think
      it is because the relationship is different for each of us on a very
      personal and intimate level. Are they the same, I would have to say
      both yes and no…. Yes in substance, no in 1:1 experience. UPG… I
      think this is where things get sticky for me and for others. I think
      due to the very personal bond we have with these beings / archetypes,
      things become real personal and intimate. The bond is formed because
      these are not just friend or cherished loved ones, they are more, they
      are Gods/Goddesses… When we get to this point, personal UPG and
      knowledge gained becomes sacred and holy writ for some and if it is
      from the Gods/Goddesses, it is special and because some are very
      egocentric, they think that we are all bound by their UPG. I
      personally use the term non-binding UPG, meaning that my relationship
      with XYZ and anything gained in mine and has nothing to do with
      anything or one else. But with every personal rule there is an
      exception. If I am meditating and as a part of that my mind conjures
      up images of this same (let’s say) Odin and he says, hey Kelley, you
      know John Doe, he is really becoming harmful to himself / others by
      his reckless behavior and thus you should get involved. Well at that
      point, I feel like ethically that something deep down says UPG is now
      binding. So that is how is works out for me. I think for me, these
      ideas stated above are very natural and grounded in both the Paganism
      and Craft I practice and seems less schizophrenic sounding than when I
      hear others talking about there experiences, which sometimes sounds
      well, I want to be nice, lets just say sometimes hearing someone else
      experiences makes me feel uneasy, Like a Pagan with a pentacle shirt
      one at a Pentecostal Church where they are supposedly casting out so
      called demons… A little uneasy discomfort is experienced. Have a good
      day John and Blessings to you!

      • John Halstead

        Wow, Kelley! Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a lot to work through, and I think we are saying a lot of the same things. I think we do diverge at some point though, though I’m not sure exactly where. Reading your experience, I would theorize that you and your friend are relating to the “same thing” (Odin) in an analogical sense, but not in an ontological sense. You both have seen the same imagery of Odin and heard the same stories about Odin (more or less), and you both share a Father archetype (of which Odin is an archetypal image for you), which I think arises out of our biology as well as our experiences in infancy. So, what you are connecting with resembles very closely what your friend is connecting with, but I can’t take the next step and say that you are really connecting with the same thing. Relationships are reciprocal, so your relationship with Odin should change him/it. And the same thing goes for your friend. Logically, if they were the same Odin, then the changes caused by your interaction with him/it would affect your friend’s relationship. Now multiply that times all the people who have a relationship with an archetypal image they call “Odin”. I don’t see any reason to believe that this is happening — except on the cultural level where the imagery and stories about Odin evolve over time.

        • Kelley Shelton

          Good point John. I have another friend who was where I am now in my current understanding of things (which is ever changing). He once told me had had to eventually abandon Archetypal images. He stated that though he use to associate lets say Thunder with Thor (he is a meteorologist by trade living in the Ohio Valley (storm central) and stated he wears his Hammer around his neck, but its more or less just symbolic now. He stated that he can have no real relationship with Thor anymore than he can have a relationship with Mickey Mouse (his words not mine). He said that it made him no more or less Pagan. He stated that many of his old pagan friends called him an Atheist, but he described himself as Agnostic with heavy non-theistic leanings. He told me that he felt the connection to his Germanic culture and still practices Blot’s and other modified rituals. But he told me that is what he found so beautiful is that it was so hands on. He stated that despite many hard liners trying to pull rank as if they were some sort of Priesthood with an unbroken change of succession going back to the tribal Shamans, that would be one thing. But he stated that most of the 99% of Pagans out there studied and used their UPG to create ritual that was meaningful to them and their groups, but such rituals or cultures are not binding to everyone since we all are inspired by the old stories / myths / sacred writings and thus respond by recreating and adapting to breathe life into practices which for the most part are being revived. He stated that moving beyond Archetypes does not make him less of a Heathen, it makes him more of a Cultural Heathen living in a foreign multicultural land with modified practices for this time and place. Though I can see where he is coming from and where he is, I am not yet ready to make this leap I am somewhere between where you are and he is and there is MUCH flux in my case. Thank for the response!

          • John Halstead

            Jung would say of your friend that the archetype slipped the image that your friend had chosen. The image we project of the archetype is not identical with the archetype. The archetype “goes on working as before, like an unknown quantity in the depths of the psyche. [...] because this inner life is intrinsically free and not subject to our will and intentions, it may easily happen that the living thing chosen and defined by us will drop out of its setting, the man-made image, even against our will. Then, perhaps, we could say with Nietzsche, “God is dead.” Yet it would be truer to say, ‘He has put off our image, and where shall we find him again?’”

  • ladyimbrium

    Reblogged this on Lady Imbrium's Holocron and commented:
    A brilliant exploration of a theory that is too often looked down upon by (especially) younger neopagans.

    • John Halstead

      Thanks so much!

  • Anna GreenFlame

    All this is beautifully said and I am looking forward to re-reading it and digesting it.

    However, what I just don’t understand is this: why does anyone expect their relationship with, say, Artemis (to pick a Deity at random) to be very similar to another person’s relationship with Her?

    The keyword here is *relationship.* Complex entities create complex relationships. I personally am a complex person. The relationship I have with my husband bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to my relationship with my sisters. Even among non-relatives, each friends get a different relationship: sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes dramatic. The can’t-complete-a-sentence-without-dropping-the-F-bomb-10-times person I am with M——- is not the same as the toned-down, polite person I am with L——-. And if L——- did not know me from other contexts, she would have a hard time believing I’m the bawdy person with the sometimes twisted sense of humor.

    Why would any of us expect Gods to be different? I sometimes feel like NeoPagans, both hard and soft polytheists, expect the Gods to be these one-note personalities, yet if you look at Their myths, obviously They are not. Perhaps this tendency comes from being raised in a Judaeo-Christian context where Deity is praised for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    Which introduces another element: evolution. If a person can change and evolve over time, why would a God not change and evolve? And, in fact, you can see that happening over time as myths drift. They become more complex and evolved.

    I won’t even introduce the idea of multiple levels of divinity, with some operating on a “higher” plane and some on a lower, because it would get too many people a-twitter. There’s also the idea that many have that Deities are our most ancient ancestors. All these ideas co-exist with Jungian theory, and it adds to this: the contemporary Pagan community would be well-served to add more nuance and critical self-examination to our notions of Deity.

    • John Halstead

      Obviously, though, you are still at least physically recognizable as the same person to both M and L. You will still have many of the same idiosyncrasies. You like the same foods. You like the same music. You have same accent. And so on. We are not *completely* different people in different contexts. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Pagans to expect some similarities in their experiences of gods who identify themselves with the same name. And while we evolve, it does tend to happen gradually. I’m not a completely different person from one day to the next.

      On the other hand, I agree that perhaps the more interesting question is not why Pagans experience a disconnect in the experience of deity, but why they would ever a connect.

  • Kenneth Apple

    Jung’s concept of archetypes is so much stronger, and so close to a polytheistic concept of deity it’s hard to separate them. I think modern Jungian thought has tried to distance itself from that and ‘psychologize’ his stronger thoughts on the matter.
    I also think that we are such a fragmented society it’s hard to agree on anything. Not surprising I suppose. You can go see a movie with a friend and disagree on what you saw and how to interpret it, and that’s when you both saw the same completely objective reality.
    Science does a great job of telling how the world works, but it doesn’t do a very good job of explaining how it feels to be human from inside the human skull. For that we need art, metaphor, ritual. I’ve read a lot of books on creativity and writing in particular. Many, most, of those writers, if they don’t come to see creativity as something outside the writer in a scientific sense, see it that way metaphorically. That’s how it feels when you are writing and your characters start saying stuff and doing things that totally surprise you. If the gods are just doing and telling you stuff you expect to hear, I suspect your not listening.
    Great post, as always.

    • Kenneth Apple


    • John Halstead

      I have to agree that a lot of Jung’s statements suggest an ontological status for the archetypes. There’s a lot of disagreement about what Jung *meant*, but I don’t think that matters as much as the ways that his thought can spur us to think about things in new ways. That said, I think Jung was trying to walk a tightrope between materialism and phychologism, and so sometimes he tipped to far one way or the other.

      Your comment about the scientific study of humanity is well taken. I just came across this quote by RD Laing that I think you’ll appreciate:
      “It is unfortunate that personal and subjective are words so abused as to have no power to convey any genuine act of seeing the other as person (if we mean this we have to revert to ‘objective’) but imply immediately that one is merging one’s own feelings and attitudes into one’s own feelings and attitudes into one’s study of the other in such a way as to distort our perception of him. In contrast to the reputable ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’, we have the disreputable ‘subjective’, ‘intuitive’, or, worst of all, ‘mystical.’ It is interesting, for example, that one frequently encounters ‘merely’ before subjective, whereas it is almost inconceivable to speak of anyone being ‘merely’ objective.” (1990b: 24-25)

      Laing, R.D. 1990b. The Divided Self. (reprint) London: Penguin Books Ltd.

      In speaking about human experience I think it makes sense to describe scientific description as valuable but “merely objective”.

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Kenneth Apple

    I’ve always thought it interesting that science, for the most part, denies that animals have emotions and self awareness in the same way humans do. If you take the same completely objective viewpoint and aim it at humans you can’t prove we have self awareness. The only thing I have to go on is self reportage of other humans, which is notoriously inaccurate.