In 1925, in the midst of working on the Red Book (RB) Jung wrote “It seemed to me I was living in an insane asylum of my own making. I went about with all these fantastic creatures: centaurs, nymphs, satyrs, gods and goddesses as though they were patients and I was analyzing them”. S. Shamdasani, the editor of the RB, noted that Jung found mythological work both exciting and intoxicating. Jung understood mythological images as symbols of the universal life force (libido) depicting the movements and dynamics of the autonomous, archetypal psyche.
Jung writes about one of his earlier visions: “On the night when I considered the essence of the God, I became aware of an image.” In this vision he dialogues with Elijah and his daughter Salome. Two thoughts strike me immediately as relevant for an understanding of Jung’s approach. One is his use of the word image.
An image is not to be confused with outer reality. Physicists provide explanations for the nature of matter and outer reality, but one thing is certain, our experience creates an inner image that is not the same as outer reality. The image is a subjective experience in the individual mind. It can be visual, but the experience of a sound or a physical sensation will also bring forth an image. A thought is an image. No question, there is an outer world and also an objective psychic reality, but it is only through the subjective capacity of cultivated self-reflection that one can – with some luck and grace – gain access and insight into the larger, transpersonal realities. An image is like a symbol. It is not to be taken literally or the door becomes a trap holding you prisoner in a concrete and narrow reality. An image is a doorway into another reality. A paradoxical situation, the image is you and is not you. You are the observer and the observed. A necessary duality has been created. Necessary because all creation depends on this duality and the forever shifting dance between the two opposing forces. A oneness has been torn asunder. It is in the liminal space in-between that new life can be born. In the context of self-reflection the new life can be a new insight, the possibility of a new pattern of experience.
In the context of a necessary duality, it is interesting that Jung when contemplating the essence of “the God”, encountered a male AND a female figure. The transpersonal may be a field of oneness, but the human intellect can only approximate the divine mystery of creation as two intertwined forces. As above so below. Think DNA. These two opposing forces are often referred to as masculine and feminine, but one must drop all preconceived notions about gender or sexuality. Each individual psyche, male or female, is made up of these energy strands, as is the objective, archetypal psyche. Yang and Yin are more neutral descriptions. Jung elicited the principles of Logos (yang, masculine, foresight, legislation, ordering, willful) and Eros (yin, feminine, receptive, related, moving, dissolving) out of his visionary meeting with Elijah and Salome. Jung writes: The way of life writhes like a serpent from right to left, from thinking to pleasure and from pleasure to thinking. Collectively and individually we are suffering an imbalance in this eternal dance that has favored the masculine principle. Where Logos rules order and persistence prevail, where Logos rules at the expense of Eros, it degenerates into dominance and abuse of power. In the individual this tendency can be associated to the sickness of the soul, known as the narcissistic personality. The problem of narcissism has been thought of as a characteristic of a dying culture. I can see this trajectory, unless psyche is irrigated by the flow of eros and balance is restored one more time again.
I am less interested in why Jung’s psyche chose Elijah and Salome as personifications of his unconscious thoughts. These are uniquely his images. It seems of much greater significance how he engaged these images. A method that later became known as Active Imagination. A technique that strongly emphasizes the duality principle. In other words, the ego, the “I” as I know it does not disappear in the face of the visionary figure. One must hold ones ground vis-a-vis an imaginative figure. They are to be met with respect, but not revered as gods, because they are not. Nor are imaginative figures spirits who have all the answers and will tell one what to do. They also don’t foretell the future. Our psychic images are real, but the essence of their reality is behind the surface of the mental image.
It is in this dialogue with Elijah and Salome, in that sacred, liminal space between them that Jung realizes: “If forethinking and pleasure unite in me, a third arises from them, the divine son, who is the supreme meaning, the symbol, the passing over into a new creation. I do not myself become the supreme meaning or the symbol, but the symbol becomes in me such that it has its substance, and I mine.”
Not one, not two. The paradox, nonduality requires duality.
Much has been written about the film Avatar since its release. Critical voices abound. Some see it as a “white person’s fantasy on racial identity”. This thought would have never occurred to me. Others see it as a “mythic expose” of Western militarism & colonialism. That reasoning I can appreciate. It is what one might see when the eye is focused on the history of Western civilization. To that I will add some thoughts from psyche’s perspective.
I will focus on the intra-psychic angle, which means we will attempt to see from “the inside out”. Imagine that there is indeed a World Soul, as the ancient philosphers and alchemists believed and captured in the image of the Anima Mundi (Soul of the world). It is the spirit in nature that animates all matter. It is the spirit that creates an interconnected, sentient and intelligent web of life of which humanity is part of.
An ancient symbol of this unity of life is the world tree. This image shows up in most world mythologies. From Yggrasil, the world tree in Nordic mytholgy to the Tree of Life in the Genesis. It is part of the mythology of the San people of the Kalahari desert, the oldest existing culture on earth and the world tree also figures prominently in the cosmology of the Mayans. That so many seemingly unrelated cultures revere the world tree points towards a synchronistic event reflecting a much larger cosmic reality. As above so below.
The biologist Carl Calleman postulates (in “The Purposeful Universe”), a central axis, a cosmic Tree of Life which creates organizations of life on a microcosmic level, that is on the level of our lived life. The soul knows, and has always known, that the image of the tree holds a deep mystery and a connection to a transpersonal reality. The tree, deeply rooted in the ground below, opens its branches towards the heavens. It needs the water from below and the light from above to live and grow. In Jungian thought, the tree, has a bridging function and is an integral part of nature. The tree image is an exquisite image of the archetypal feminine.
Such a tree is the source of strength, knowledge and inspiration of the Na’vi, the native inhabitants of Pandora. I suggest that the Na’vi can be seen as personifications of our disowned and split off connection to nature, our own nature as well as Nature in the world. The Na’vi may represent our repressed connection to the mysteries and wonders of life and cosmic reality. This seems true on an individual as well collective level. On the individual level, this is what happens when cynicism wins out over a tender feeling. In that moment a bulldozer killing machine steamrolls our soul and consciousness. Not unlike the military commander, who is cut off from nature’s suffering and her plight. The abuse of the natural world and her resources on a collective level are so blatantly obvious that there is no need to go into further detail now.
Avatar can be seen as a constructive countervision to the catastrophy mongering of 2012 mania. It shows us what needs to be done. Individually and collectively. The archetypal feminine is returning. Whether we like or not, the Goddess is on her way back. Symbolically,not literally, but the forces involved are VERY REAL. Whether this will be a smooth process or a catastrophic event depends largely on us. Can we make this shift, as individuals and as a culture, to make room for Yin, the archetypal feminine and expand our linear, mechanistic and overly rational frame of what we think consciousness is?
One intriguing fact is that the Na’vi are blue. I have no doubt the makers of Avatar were aware of the blue god in Hindu mythology, Krishna.Krishna was the eighth reincarnation (avatar) of the Hindu God Vishnu. Significant similarities exist between Krishna and the Christ figure. Both were sent by a father god to challenge the tyranny of the ruling class. Both were considered divine and human. Krishna is often depicted with a flute, which people found irresistable. Krishna was a rebel, a poet and a lover of many women in Hindu lore. This earthy behavior and the flute connect him to the Greek Pan and they are all aspects of the connection to the archetypal feminine that needed to be split off, denied and repressed in the Christ of the dogmatic church. (Only the Gnostics allowed for a different image of Christ to surface).
The 2012 hype aside, many sense that a major shift is demanded from us. We may need to, as shown in AVATAR, emerge into our Na’vi nature, which is living in harmony with the feminine of which the soul is part of. This is not a simplistic return to nature or to a previous evolutionary stage. It may be the next leap in the evolution of consciousness, and the only one that may hold the promise of survival.