Psyche and Archetype

The widely popular notion of archetypes in depth psychology and popular culture has never really interested me that much. I understand the concept, and it is a concept after all, which already renders it problematic in a psychological sense – instinct, which is in itself spontaneous and organic, ever changing and adapting to evolving circumstances, can never be fully grasped by the linear way of intellect that tends to put and prioritise principles in and over the place of actual experience. The fact that there are universal psychological modes of understanding and sense-making across human beings strikes me as obvious given that our species has common physiological and neurological features, drives and patterns of behaviour. Psyche reflects matter, and so it will evidently meet and represent these common conditions to the human mind. Humans are nevertheless constantly evolving and adapting to the changing environmental circumstances they meet, and the psyche will reflect these changes on a collective level just the same. While archetypal images, stories and symbols might still be universal in character today, the nature, i.e., the types of images and plot lines could well have changed quite bit. The old (religious) myths might have moved on and not represent the contemporary imagination of the unconscious at all anymore. The reason I wonder about this is because the image of Jesus is a very familiar one to me. There is a great intimacy between me and this unconscious instinct, which is widely regarded and interpreted as a positive aspect in mainstream culture. According to the Jungian classification, for example, Christ is an archetypal symbol of the Self, the presence of which would indicate a psychological sense of wholeness, or the movement towards an inner centre at least. In my own imaginal and intuitive experience, however, I have come to know this man as a, or possibly the most, significant Shadow figure whose very own inner centre is distinctively, and wonderfully, dark. I have witnessed the darkness in and surrounding him, and I have made a point to honour and carry little bits of it for him, wherever imaginally possible. In my intuitive conversations with the unconscious, it emerged that the God image effectively created Christ as a compensation for his own unconsciousness, his very own shadow, where the pure light and love of Jesus is the countervail aspect of the tainted darkness of his father, leaving neither truly whole. God ultimately failed to take responsibility for his creation and consequently projected his shadow onto man; watching the suffering and divisiveness that ensued through the denial of his own blindness, he then attempted to right this wrong, not by facing his own sins, but by sending his son to redeem and make whole, not man, but himself. Contrary to the original story, Christ was never fully redeemed and released from this burden, and, in the unconscious, the image of Jesus still lives with the guilt and pain of denying man his righteous place by hiding and failing to challenge the dark side of his father. The reason that God is dead, as Nietzsche famously said, is not due to man, but the denial of the Father and the Son to face their own shadow, that black hole, in which their images been slowly drowning, high at risk at this stage to disappear forever. It is due to the one-sided nature of the Son himself, alas, that not only man, but also the divine masculine itself, have been paying dearly in terms of their psychological freedom, preventing both instincts from being able to be true to themselves, to be their true Selves. Ever since I learnt this, it has been a mystery to me that if neither God nor Jesus could manage to “integrate their shadow”, how could this possibly be asked of man, who was supposedly created in His image? And who will go and challenge God and save his life by setting him straight in the only way that can get to him – image to image, instinct to instinct, soul to soul? Having no answers to these questions is the reason why “We have had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse” (Hillman and Ventura, 1992), if you ask me. If I would not trust my own experience and “stick with the images” as James Hillman ardently instructed, I would have been prone to interpret my inner experiences of the Christ image by way of established interpretations of the Christian myth and consequently run risk of constructing and running off a mental framework that would not correspond to my nature at all. The image of Christ is magnificent. I have seen the radiance as much as the sorrow, and this has been a great relief and reassurance. I, for one, could not possibly exist in mental and emotional conditions where all is light and bright. Like many creatures that live closer to or in the ground, I depend on psychological shade and darkness for my senses to properly function. I had many such experiences where it was obvious that the imagery the psyche showed me and the gut instincts that unconsciously arose showed Jungian archetypes and other well-known mythological themes in a very different light. Interpretating psyche through popular archetypes and focussing too much on the common in the human experience of the mind - where “common” can too often turn tedious, mundane, and borderline vulgar, one beware - tends to prevent the development of the openness required to allow the unconscious to organically evolve and reflect precisely what is actually going on.