Archetypal patterns and symbols seem to underly what we collectively refer to as religion. However, as religions have progressed though history, there has been a pressure to replace innate symbolism with dogma and tradition. As this happens, we begin to lose the divine aspects of the symbols that have touched and shaped human life from the beginning. We sever the religion from the forces that actually gave it life. Carl Jung notes this phenomena in The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, “I am convinced that the growing impoverishment of symbols has a meaning. It is a development that has an inner consistency. Everything that we have not thought about, and that therefore has been deprived of a meaningful connection with with our developing consciousness, has got lost.”
When things are lost they leave a vacuum, or void. Jung continues, “What is worse, the vacuum gets filled with absurd political and social ideas, which one and all are distinguished by their spiritual bleakness.” I presume this void left by our symbolic impoverishment still contains that fervor once seen in pursuits of the divine. Now, that intensity sits behind social and political values. This leads to increasing displays of tribalism, assuredness in one’s personal views, and ingraining of the self versus other duality. I would argue these problems sit at the foundation of today’s society, yearning for reconciliation. Now there is certainly something sovereign about the individual, and this must be protected with the utmost urgency. But is there not some way we can preserve the sovereignty of the individual, while also helping people realize we are here for others and in fact, that it is only an illusion demarcating the boundary between self and other.
This spiritual bleakness has tremendous implications. We have made immense gains in the realms of intellect and technology. We have gazed upon the vast extremities of our galaxy and the equally expansive microcosms of our own cells. Through harnessing the power of the atom we have equipped ourselves with the god like ability of utter destruction. And are we not embarking on divine creation itself through the advances of CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene editing technologies? This is certainly no alarm or cause for panic, as pushing our boundaries and abilities has always been a part of our story. However this bounding advancement in intellect and technology has significantly outstripped the advancement of wisdom and the spirit. The real danger does not lie in the technology itself, but the lopsided nature of the relationship between spirit and matter.
Jung states that we must go through descent before the ascent. We must reach to the depths, and search out the very places we least want to go. “In the Gnostic hymn to the soul, the son is sent forth by his parents to seek the pearl that fell from the King’s crown. It lies at the bottom of a deep well, guarded by a dragon.” The individual each has their own dragon, and their own pearl. We all have unique offerings to share with the world. This adventure occurs both within and without. Here, the individual will certainly encounter their shadow, that living part of the personality that is forced outside of consciousness. This then becomes the first challenge to the hero, for the shadow represents all his “helplessness and ineffectuality.” With honest and real confrontation, one is able to shape his consciousness, resulting in compensatory reactions from the collective unconscious.
“You are now more inclined to give heed to a helpful idea or intuition, or to notice thoughts which had not been allowed to voice themselves before…or will reflect on certain inner and outer occurrences that take place just at this time. If you have an attitude of this kind, the the helpful powers slumbering in the deeper strata of man’s nature can come awake and intervene, for helplessness and weakness are the eternal experience and eternal problem of mankind.” – Carl Jung, The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious
Even when we have done all we know to do, there is room for improvement in that infinite realm of what we don’t know. This honest confrontation with the shadow, the meeting of oneself, is the passageway to non-dual experience of life. The way to unification of the opposites, and the quest to elevate beyond the self. To experience this moment, as one with all, holding space for another.
All the quotes in this article are from C.G. Jung’s The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (all in the first chapter even). An incredible work that I get more out of each time I come back to. I plan on exploring more of the book in this format. Going forward, I will certainly get into specific archetypes and a broader understanding of the collective unconscious.