It never ceases to amaze me when someone says that you can’t believe the gods are archetypes and be Pagan. The notion that the gods might be psychological dates back at least to the 5th century BCE. In uttonis play, Trojan Women, Euripides put these words into the mouth of one of his characters: “O thou that dost support the earth and restest thereupon, whosoe’er thou art, a riddle past our ken! Be thou Zeus, or natural necessity, or man’s intellect, to thee I pray.” (emphasis added)
The claim that Jungians can’t be Pagan ignores the (at least) thousands of Pagans who hold an archetypalist view of the gods. What’s more, it ignores almost 50 years of contemporary Pagan history. I get the impression from some of these folks that they think that I invented Jungian polytheism. In fact, Jungian interpretations of the gods of polytheism were popularized by many popular Pagan writers over a period of decades, long before I called myself Pagan.
Dion Fortune (Violet Firth) was a well-known occultist of the early 20th century and is considered by many to be a proto-Pagan. She belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and founded her own occult order, the Society of Inner Light. She was perhaps best known among Pagans as the author of The Sea Priestess.
The influence of Fortune on Paganism has been documented by Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon. Hutton describes her single greatest legacy to modern Pagan witchcraft to be her idea of magical polarity, the notion that erotic attraction between the sexes could be channeled into magical operations. Fortune coined the phrase, “A religion without a goddess is halfway to atheism,” and it was through Fortune’s influence that Doreen Valiente introduced a larger role for the Goddess (and hence the High Priestess) into Gardnerian witchcraft. Without Fortune’s influence, it is possible that the feminist spirituality movement of the 1970s would never have embraced Neo-Pagan witchcraft, and witchcraft would have remained an obscure esoteric tradition, true to Gardner’s conservative vision of witches as wanting “quiet, regular, ordinary good government with everyone content and happy.” (Gods forbid!)
Fortune studied psychology and actually practiced as a psychoanalyst for a time. In the course of her studies, she was influenced most strongly by the writings of Freud and Jung. Fortune frequently used the term “archetype” in her esoteric writings, and Jung is cited in both her nonfiction and her fiction. She is credited by Chas Clifton with being the first occult author to approach magic from a Jungian perspective. In her first publication, Machinery of the Mind (1922), Fortune answered the question whether the gods are real, saying that they are neither “real persons as we understand personality” nor illusions; they are rather “emanations” of a group-mind, which are powerful because of their influence over the imaginations of their worshipers. “The gods are creations of the created,” she wrote, “They are made by the adoration of their worshippers.” Whether the gods are wholly subjective or whether they have an independent life of their own, she went on, is a matter of faith.
The quote by Fortune most known by Pagans is “All the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess …” Pagans often leave off the rest of the quotation: “… and there is one initiator.” The quote comes from Fortune’s novel, The Sea Priestess (1938). There, she had one of her characters say: “… the old gods are coming back, and man is finding Aphrodite and Ares and great Zeus in his own heart“. Similarly, in her book, The Winged Bull (1935), one of Fortune’s characters says: “God was many-sided, you couldn’t see every side at once; and the gods were the facets of the One. … God was as many-sided as the soul of man.”
Another proto-Pagan, Israel Regardie is probably best known for publishing the secret ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Ronald Hutton explains in Triumph of the Moon how Gerald Gardner built his Neo-Pagan witchcraft tradition on the framework of the Golden Dawn system. If Dion Fortune deserves the credit for being the first author to explain esoteric practice in Jungian terms, Israel Regardie deserves the credit for making the connection much more explicit and for doing so in terms that are comprehensible to the non-occultist.
Just three years after Fortune published her The Mystical Qabalah, Regardie published his The Middle Pillar (1938), which was subtitled, “a co-relation of the principles of analytical psychology and the elementary techniques of magic.” In the introduction to the second edition of the book, Regardie wrote,
“The real virtue of the book lies in its correlation of the practice of magic to modern psychotherapy. For magic places the achievement of self-awareness second only in importance to the achievement of unity with God. And Jung’s definition of psychotherapy was that which enabled one to become conscious of what hitherto was unconscious.”
Regardie explained that the purpose of his book was to help others recognize that in the “deep unconscious levels lies a great storehouse of power, awareness and vitality which must not only be awakened but recognized and equilibriated for the human being to function at maximum capacity.”
Regardie relied heavily on Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious. For him, God and the collective unconscious were interchangeable terms, depending only on the religious or metaphysical system one chooses. As Regardie explained, the collective unconscious includes archetypes, which are psychological forms that have been molded by repeated ancestral experiences. These take the form of gods and angels in magical practice. Elsewhere he used the words “gods” and “archetypes” interchangeably.*
In The Meaning of Witchcraft, Gerald Gardner described witchcraft as a religion which allowed people to express “archetypal reverences” which arise “from deep levels of the unconscious.” Gardner was notoriously ambiguous about the nature of the gods of witchcraft, but one passage suggests he embraced an archetypal interpretation:
“Between the idea of the young woman he loved and the old woman he feared, man found a goddess to worship, who loved him and protected him, and at times punished him. Those modern psychologists who belong to the school of C. G. Jung tell us that buried deep in what they call the collective unconscious of humanity are certain primordial concepts which Jung calls ‘archetypes’. He defines these as ‘inherited predispositions to reaction’, and as ‘perhaps comparable to the axial system of a crystal, which predetermines, as it were, the crystalline formation in the saturated solution, without itself possessing a material existence.’ We might call them ‘primordial images’. Jung defines two of the most potent of these archetypes which dwell in the mysterious depths of the unconscious mind of man as ‘The Great Mother’ and ‘The Old Wise Man’, and judging from the description of them given in his works they are undoubtedly identical with the goddess and god of the witch cult. Dr. Jolan Jacobi, in The Psychology of C. G. Jung, says, ‘They are well known from the world of the primitives and from mythology in their good and evil, light and dark aspects, being represented as magician, prophet, mage, pilot of the dead, leader, or as goddess of fertility, sybil, priestess, Sophia, etc. From both figures emanates a mighty fascination. . . .’ These are precisely the deities of the witches, and this fact may be a clue to the mystery of the cult’s amazing endurance.”
Gardner went on to refer to Erich Neumann’s analysis of the “Great Mother” archetype and observes that, while two particular images of the Great Mother archetype — the Great Mother of Grime’s Graves and the White Lady of the Bards — are separated by a great gulf of time, “the archetype is the same.”
Doreen Valiente was the yin to Gerald Gardner’s yang, and her influence on the development of Paganism arguably extended beyond Gardner’s. As suggested above, but for Valiente’s influence, it is possible that Gardnerian witchcraft would have remained an insignificant branch of the British esoteric community. Valiente was responsible for the introduction of a greater role for the Goddess and the mortal priestess in Gardnerian Neo-Pagan witchcraft. She revised Gardner’s “Book of Shadows” and is the author of the “Charge of the Goddess,” which is perhaps the single best known Neo-Pagan sacred text.
Valiente acknowledged the influence of Dion Fortune on her, describing her as “an occult writer who realized the true significance of the ancient gods, and their archetypal rule in the unconscious.” Unfortunately, it was almost a decade after her initiation by Gardner that Valiente published her first book, Where Witchcraft Lives (1962), and it was not until the 1970s that she began to more directly influence the broader Pagan movement.
In her first work, the influence of Jung on Valiente is already apparent. She wrote that in the “deeps of the mind” Jung had “rediscovered the ancient gods; only he calls them ‘the archetypes of the collective unconscious.’” This influence continues in her later publications. In Witchcraft for Tomorrow (1978), Valiente wrote: “In the collective unconscious of our race, therefore, dwell timelessly the images of the gods. They are the personifications of the forces of nature, and all are modifications of the primordial pair, the All-Father and All-Mother.” Later she explained:
“The gods and goddesses are personifications of the powers of nature; or perhaps one should say, of supernature, the powers, which govern and bring forth the life of our world, both manifest and hidden. … Moreover, when such a magical image has been built up and strengthened over the course of centuries of worship and ritual, it becomes powerful in itself, because it becomes ensouled by that which it personifies. The form may have started as imagination, but when that which it personifies is real, imagination becomes in truth the image-making faculty. … Jung has shown some thought-forms, such as the ‘Great Mother’, the ‘Wise Old Man’, and the ‘Divine Child’, are so universal that he calls them archetypes, dwelling as they do in the collective unconscious of mankind.”
Valiente’s greatest influence on the development of contemporary Paganism may have been through her influence on other prominent Pagans, like the Farrars.
Janet and Stewart Farrar
Janet and Stewart Farrar were initiates of Alex Sanders into Alexandrian Witchcraft and were strongly influenced by Doreen Valiente, and who was herself influenced by Jungian ideas. In The Witches’ Way (1984), the Farrars devoted a chapter to the Jungian interpretation of Wiccan ritual. They wrote that “Every witch would be well advised to study the works of Carl Gustav Jung. … Jung’s ideas strike an immediate chord with almost every witch who turns serious attention to them.” In The Witches’ Goddess, the Farrars wrote, “Every good witch, and particularly every good High Priestess, has to be something of a psychologist,” and proceeded to explain such Jungian concepts as the collective unconscious, the archetypes, the anima and animus, and synchronicity.
The Farrars went on to publish The Witches’ Goddess (1987) and The Witches’ God (1989), which described various feminine and masculine “archetypal” principles such as the “Earth Mother,” the “Bright and Dark Mother,” and the “Triple Goddess” (all of which they defined as “aspects” of Jung’s “Great Mother” archetype), and the “Son/Lover,” the “Vegetation God,” and the “Horned God.” While the Farrars insisted the archetypes are “real” and the gods “exist,” they nevertheless took a pragmatic attitude toward such questions:
“Each man and woman can worry out for himself or herself whether archetypal God-forms were born in the human Collective Unconscious or took up residence there (and elsewhere) as pied-a-terre from their cosmic home—their importance to the human psyche is beyond doubt in either case, and the techniques for coming to healthy and fruitful terms with them can be used by believers and non-believers alike. … Whether the archetypal God-forms are cosmically divine, or merely the living foundation-stones of the human psyche, we would be wise to seek intercourse with them as though they were divine.”
The most important influence Jung had on the contemporary Pagan movement was probably through Starhawk and Margot Adler, both of whom published their most important works in 1979. Starhawk’s book, The Spiral Dance, is the most widely read introduction to Paganism and has sold over 300,000 copies. Starhawk’s work draws from numerous influences and, though she does not cite her sources, the influence of Jung in her writing is readily apparent. (She does quote Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding.)
One of the most important influences on Starhawk was Victor Anderson, the founder of the Feri tradition. Anderson’s Feri tradition drew on Huna, the thought of Hawaiian thinker, Max Freedom Long. Both Huna and Feri taught that human beings have three levels of consciousness, which Starhawk calls the conscious “Talking Self,” the atavistic “Younger Self,” and the divine “Deep Self” — which is synonymous with the God/dess Within. The Younger Self corresponds to Jung’s conception of the personal unconscious and the Deep Self corresponds to the collective unconscious or Jung’s “Self,” the numinous wholeness of the psyche. In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk writes that the purpose of Witchcraft was to get these “selves” communicating. This is accomplished through ritual.
In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk explains that the nature of the Goddess is both psychological and physical, in the sense that the earth itself is a manifestation of the Goddess:
“I have spoken of the Goddess as psychological symbol and also as manifest reality. She is both. She exists, and we create Her. … We know the Goddess is not a woman, but we respond with love as if She were, and so connect emotionally with all the abstract qualities behind the symbol. … She is both internal and external; as solid as rock, as changeable as our own internal image of Her. She is manifest within each of us–so where else should we look?”
In Dreaming the Dark, Starhawk criticizes Jung’s concept of the archetypes, which she describes as a “symptom of estrangement, derived from the Platonic notion that the world itself was not the real.” She explains,
“To a Witch, the world itself is what is real. The Goddess, the Gods, are not mere psychological entities, existing in the psyche as if the psyche were a cave removed from the world; they too are real — that is, they are ways of thinking-in-things about real forces, real experiences.”
A superficial reading of this would understand Starhawk as contrasting “mere” archetypes with “real” gods. But a close reading reveals that Starhawk’s meaning is not that the gods exist as immaterial or transcendent beings, but that our subjective experience is as real as the physical world. The gods are “ways of thinking-in-things,” which she explains means “experiencing concretely,” in contrast to “thinking abstractly.” As an example, she says that “Deep Self,” “Talking Self,” and “Younger Self” are “useful ways of thinking-in-things about who we are.”
So for Starhawk, the gods are as real as the various parts of ourselves are — but they are real because our experiences are real, not because they exist independently of us. “Though the symbols, the images, do not exist outside of us who perceive them, the forces, the powers-from-within, are real. … The Goddess, the Gods, are our potential.” Thus, Starhawk’s conception of the gods is arguably closer to what Jung actually meant by “archetypes” than the popular Platonic understanding of archetypes which has been popularized and which Starhawk criticizes.
Margot Adler was the granddaughter of Alfred Adler, who together with Jung and Freud, founded the psychoanalytical movement. Adler draws on Jungian theory to defend Neo-Paganism in her journalistic account of the movement, Drawing Down the Moon. Adler herself converted to Paganism in the process of researching the book. The book, while ostensibly descriptive, also came to have an important prescriptive effect on the development of contemporary Paganism.
While Starhawk did not cite her sources, Adler was quite explicit about her debt to Jung:
“Much of the theoretical basis for a modern defense of polytheism comes from Jungian psychologists, who have long argued that the gods and goddesses of myth, legend and fairy tale represent archetypes, real potencies and potentialities deep within the psyche, which, when allowed to flower permit us to be more fully human. These archetypes must be approached and ultimately reckoned with if we are to experience the riches we have repressed. Most Jungians argue that the task is to unite these potentialities into a symphonic whole.”
Adler cited Neo-Jungians, James Hillman and David Miller (The New Polytheism) and explained, “The Jungian conception that images of divinity and the sacred are representative of archetypes within the collective unconscious has given the neo-Pagan movement a conceptual framework within which it has been possible to accommodate polytheistic religious belief.”
Vivianne Crowley (no relation to Aleister) is a Jungian therapist, as well as an initiate of both Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft. Her influence on the British Neo-Pagan community has been significant. She also blogs here at Patheos Pagan. Wouter Hanegraaf has written that Crowley’s Jungian perspective “is so strong that readers might be forgiven for concluding that Wicca is little more than a religious and ritual translation of Jungian psychology.” (Incidentally, she is a big part of the reason why I became Pagan.)
Crowley writes in her essay, “Wicca as a Modern-Day Mystery Religion” (in Graham Harvey’s Paganism Today), that Wicca is a mystery religion which has the same goal as the ancient mysteries:
“to know thyself and to attain some form of permanent psycho-spiritual transformation involving a moving of the center of the personality from the ego (what I think of as myself), to the Self (what I truly am when the contents of the unconscious are revealed and reconciled). Interestingly, these aims are similar to those of many of the more spiritually-oriented psychotherapy movements, of which Carl Jung’s is the best-known.”
According to Crowley, Wicca accomplishes this psycho-spiritual transformation through ritual, which is an “externalization” of an inner psychological journey represented through symbolism.
In her book, Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age, Crowley writes, “Our Gods are the archetypal forces which inhabit the collective unconscious.” She then asks the question, “If the Divine is within us, is it merely psychological, an imaginary construct? Are the outer forms of the Gods real?” In response, Crowley quotes Jung as saying that archetypal images are not mere allegories or symbols. Rather, “they are images of contents which for the most part transcend consciousness. We have still to discover that such contents are real, that they are agents …” She then goes on to explain that there is a Divine reality beyond the images, but it is beyond our human comprehension.
Postscript: Jung Himself
“infiltrate into people from many centers to revivify among intellectuals a feeling for symbol and myth, ever so gently to transform Christ back into the soothsaying god of the vine, which he was, and in this way absorb those ecstatic instinctual forces of Christianity for the one purpose of making the cult and the sacred myth what they once were — a drunken feast of joy where man regained the ethos and holiness of an animal.”
I think that is exactly what happened … in the form of contemporary Paganism.
For more on the influence of Jungian psychology on Paganism, see:
Crowley, Vivianne. “Neo-Paganism and Psychology,” in The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism, eds. Shelley Rabinovich and James Lewis (2002)
Crowley, Vivianne. “Carl Jung and the Development of Contemporary Paganism,” presented at Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective, The Development of Paganism: History, Influences and Contexts, 1880-2002, organised by The Open University Religious Studies Research Group Belief Beyond Boundaries (Jan. 12, 2002)
Goldenberg, Naomi. Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the end of traditional religions (1979)
Waldron, David. Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival (2008)
*Regardie warns, though, against the psychologizing of the archetypes which, he says, “is the result of misunderstanding Jung’s theories.” To the pop-psychologist, he says, the archetypes and gods are “simply creations of the human mind–they have no existence beyond the individual human being. Pop psychology sometimes gives the impression that humans create, work with, and discard archetypes as easily as an old pair of shoes, in a kind of superficial mental role-playing game. This view does not do Jung’s theory justice, since archetypes exist externally and independently of any individual.” (emphasis original)