Deconstructing and Reconstructing Individuation


The following reflections constitute a preliminary dive (or cannonball) into an area of Jungian thinking that is in very dire straits: the construct of individuation.  Why is it in dire straits?  The reasons are many, and I don't intend to systematically delineate all of them in these essays.  To name a few . . . because the Jungian individuation construct is flawed and does not work.  Because the individuation construct is mired in very woolly language and thinking communicable only to "believers".  Because the developmental and archetypal schools of Jungian thought have already moved on to reject or ignore or degeneratively redefine the individuation construct the classical school has always cherished and locked safely in its trophy case to gather dust.

These are perhaps strong accusations, although not truly original ones.  Some of the previous critiques of the individuation construct are quite valid, in my opinion.  But they commonly lead to a debunking and rejection of individuation as a useful psychological or psychotherapeutic paradigm.  Individuation has often been (to its critics) a piece or archaic, useless clutter to be tossed out during any spring cleaning of the Jungian household.  My perspective is different.  What I think we have here is no trophy or tattered antique.  Rather, it is an exquisite, but broken, instrument.  It must be deconstructed, taken apart, carefully cleaned and repaired.  But it can then be reassembled in a functional form.

To recast that analogy, it is as if the instrument of individuation was incorrectly assembled (and perhaps designed) by Jung and his early and more classical followers.  When it was wound up with the hope of spinning into some kind of perpetual motion, it quickly sputtered to a halt.  Since then, the classical true believers in the original assembly of individuation have insisted that it is really a great instrument . . . but with numerous qualifications.  It is-but-is-not X, Y, Z.  It is endless and has only a symbolic/imaginal conclusion.  As a movement toward wholeness, it is always growing and growing asymptotically.  If you are becoming frustrated with its lack of payoff, you simply aren't doing it right . . . although only a qualified Jungian can subjectively assess whether or not you are doing it right (payment for this assessment is much appreciated, although buying the book of said Jungian is the next best alternative).

There is a great deal of mystification and fluff padding the abundant failures of individuation to prove itself equal to the classical Jungian propaganda about its transcendent sublimity and incalculable worth.  Like any god who does not show at the designated time and place, individuation has become mythic, fantastic, arcane, and much abstracted and rationalized.  It's failures are always failures of the believer or pursuer and never of the paradigm itself.

I envision a work of scholarship that systematically analyzes the history and construction of the individuation construct, pulls together various ideas, quotations, social and historical contexts . . . a kind of critical biography of this Jungian deity.  Such a work is, I think, necessary.  But I do not intend to attempt it, certainly not in these essays.  I don't intend to attempt it in part because it is a massive task involving a great deal of tedious scholarly research that would be of minimal interest to me.  But more importantly, I won't attempt it because I have absolutely no expectation that there would really be an audience interested in such a work, no matter how "necessary" I feel it is.  More accurately, I don't think the audience that would be interested in a critical history and analysis of individuation would be very interested in where it would lead.

Where I think it would lead is to the death of a beloved god.  That death would have to be defended against and denied all the more forcefully and delusionally, driving Jungian thinking deeper and deeper into dysfunction, hypocrisy, and ineffective isolation (or occultism).  I do not want to serve that destruction and decline of Jungian thought (although it will probably get there eventually on its own terms).  If an author were to write the kind of historical critique I am envisioning, it would only be embraced by critics of Jungianism, providing more fodder for the condemnation and dismissal of Jung and his ideas.  Jungians would, I feel quite sure, be utterly unable to make any use of it.

As precedent (among many smaller examples) I give the Jung-bashing books of Richard Noll.  Noll's books did indeed stir up the Jungian community and definitely contributed ammunition to opponents of Jungianism.  They even had a subtle but seriously destructive effect on Jungianism, contributing to (although, of course, not originating) the splintering of the Jungian tribe into at least three schools in conflict with one another in complex ways, all diverging from a center.  Noll gave more embodiment to a characterization of Jung that many Jungians want to get away from, to distance their own Jungianism from.  But fleeing from this shadowy Jung and from a point of central convergence in Jungian thought that functioned as a core value system and "origin myth" has led many Jungians into self-conflict with their own Jungian identity.

Noll's books fueled this explosion considerably despite the fact that they themselves were very weak and often misleading in their anti-Jungian arguments . . . despite the fact that, literally speaking, most of Noll's implications and accusations were untrue, and provably so (as Sonu Shamdasani demonstrated in his own debunking of Noll's scholarship, Cult Fictions, 1998).  But if fallacious and antagonistically partisan pseudo-scholarship could wound (or aggravate an old wound in) the Jungian "soul", imagine how much more damage a completely logical, valid, and abundantly evidenced critique of a Jungian "god" would do.

If Jungians could not take any valuable lessons (e.g., some serious shadow examination) from the Noll debacle, how would they recover from a more accurate and penetrating assault?  Richard Noll made a mistake that Jungians should count as a great and miraculous blessing: he imagined that Jung was the weak link in Jungianism.  And if Jung were attacked as a charlatan, those who worshiped him would be defeated.  But Jung, despite his well-advertised shadow, is by no means the weakest link in the Jungian chain.  He even remains as strong as ever, despite brushes with various kinds of "sinfulness", with sexism, colonialism, antisemitism, and inflation.  Jung, the man, weathers these storms, emerging a little more ragged yet all the more impressive for his survival.  The weakest links in the Jungian chain, although they can be said to stem to varying degrees and in complicated ways from Jung's own complexes and personal equation, are those linked on by many of his followers and the creative, intellectual, and social choices they have made.

The Jungians (even the self-declared "post-Jungians") have not convincingly managed to improve upon Jung's theories and attitudes, even as various splinter groups have adopted many means of differentiating themselves.  No splinter tribe has moved along its chosen road without leaving some very valuable ideas and understandings behind.

My own desire is not to destroy Jungianism and Jung's thinking, but to build anew from its center.  That is, a new revisioning.  In this revisioning, various critiques of Jung and Jungianism will be implied.  But my goal is not to merely substitute a new god for an old one, say, to reject Jung's supposed "monotheism" for an alternative "polytheism" as was one staple of James Hillman's revisionism.  I am not, like Hillman, a disenfranchised, prodigal son setting off on his estranged road away from the realm of the father . . . the direction largely defined by that puer escape and defiance.  My goal is to contribute to a (substantially linguistic) repair of Jungian theories, not to their rejection or defiance.  I am not driven by seeking "difference" to father Jung's thinking.  I want to get the old instruments working again.  And this is not in the service of "resurrecting the Father" (at least not directly and intentionally).  It is not the "Father", but the tribe and its utility that I would like to serve.  I would like to see the Jungian tribe become survivable.  I don't care if we are good sons and daughters or prodigals.  What matters to me is that we learn to adapt and not die out.

There is something that Jung started . . . not as much a set of ideas as a set of valuations.  The expression of these valuations is not, for me, the alpha and omega.  It does not need to be purified of its taint and raised up to glory.  It is an ancestor that contributed DNA to us Jungians, and we seek to adapt and mutate and find fitness within our environment.  Our environment is not Jung's environment, and so there are new and other pressures upon us to adapt.

What I want to address and help illuminate is an individuation construct that actually works and is non-delusional.  As ambitious as that sounds, I have to confess up front that reconstructing individuation in this functional way requires the sacrifice of many conventional Jungian sanctities and precious dogmas.  For instance, the idea that individuation is a good in itself, that it is universally to be desired and pursued, that it leads to enlightenment and transcendence, that it saves, that it heals, that it betters the individual.  It is that fantasy of individuation that makes it attractive to most people, and it is this desirability that allows individuation to be commodified for a lay-Jungian, self-help audience and market.

To hear Jungians talk about individuation is to hear an evangel, the Good News of potential salvation through faith.  But individuation (as I will go on to construct it) is more of a heresy, or even sin, than it is a salvation of the individual.  Individuation is a Mark of Cain, not the blessing of the house of Abel.  Individuation is not the transcendent movement of the individual toward wholeness.  It is the excommunication of the individual from the "whole" state of participation and its mystique.

As I reconstruct individuation, the question that a good and obedient Jungian would have to ask is: "Why would I want this cheap and shoddy thing instead of the resplendent numen of classical individuation?"  And the only answer, dissatisfying though it may be, is: "Because it is more real and genuine than the resplendent numen classical individuation imagines."  This genuine individuation will simply not be attractive to most people . . . and it is not prescribable universally for our various modern ills.  Yet it is only this unprescribable, less desirable, and much harder won individuation that can be historically and psychologically studied and validated.

The path of individuation is not a chosen path, and it is not a path for the believer.  It is a path of compulsion, perhaps a "Calling", a path of last resort, a surrender to something destructive.  It does not reward faith with solace and fulfillment.  It can be brutal . . . and there is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, no treasure mythically awaiting the seeker.  What treasures individuation holds are created by the individuant, not found or won.  There is no manna.  What is gained instead is responsibility, duty.

Jung remarked that the individuation journey never ends while we live.  Only in death can it be completed.  That is too mystical and grand for my tastes, but I will offer a similar aphoristic bone as aperitif:  Individuation's a bitch, and then you die.

Individuation Credentials?

On what basis do I offer a revised individuation construct that (supposedly) contradicts the prevailing (largely classical) Jungian model?  My revision has very similar origins to Jung's original construct.  That is, it derives largely and initially from personal experience.  Jung's individuation model, although he felt it was corroborated by his patients' experiences, derives almost entirely from his own "confrontation with the unconscious" beginning around 1913 after his split with Freud.  This becomes especially clear now that we have the publication of the Red Book, Jung's individuation opus.  The material, characters and narratives of the Red Book serve very neatly to demonstrate the theory of individuation Jung proposes in his scholarly publications.  The attitude Jung prescribes to the would-be individuant is very much the same attitude he adopts in his Red Book experiment.  His scholarly characterizations of the unconscious, the anima, the mana-personality, the persona, the hero, the wise old man, the shadow, and various other staples of his theory all have clear foundations in the Red Book.  For more on this subject, the reader can peruse my essays on the Red Book here at Useless Science.

I don't mean to jauntily claim credibility for my revisions based on some kind of divine revelation or specious spiritual enlightenment or attainment.  My intention is to demonstrate that experience, although extremely important, is only useful in such a revisionary venture to the degree that its artifacts can be logically explained and argued for.  I will attempt to argue that the revised individuation paradigm I will propose is also better supported by texts (many of which Jungians are quite familiar with and have also depended upon for corroboration of Jung's theories), is "more archetypal", and is more elegant and logical than the conventional Jungian paradigm.  Still, there is a very distinct sense in which both Jung's and my individuation paradigms are highly personalized creative works emerging in the specific clothing of our personal languages.  As I will explain later, individuation as a whole owes its shape immensely to a very arbitrary languaging process.

From roughly the age of 16, I began to devote the lion's share of my mental energy to pursuing and understanding individuation.  It was not a whim, a psychedelic trip, a spiritual or philosophical flirtation.  It was an absolute immersion in what I now recognize to be a "Calling".  Although I had a conscious desire to seek self-betterment, to overcome ignorance and "unconsciousness", and (at the very beginning) to "attain" higher states of mind or soul, it never felt like individuation was optional to me.  It was individuate or die (this dire imperative was recognized and validated in tribal cultures, as I will explain in later installments).  This threatened death was both spiritual and potentially literal (in the form of madness and/or suicide).  The feelings Jung describes at the onset of (and during) his confrontation with the unconscious were extremely familiar to me, and they served as one of the primary attractors that brought me to Jungianism.  In Jung I saw a person who had experienced what I was experiencing and who had survived, managing to transmute the dismemberment and dissolution of that confrontation/Calling into more golden stuff.  I sought to walk in his footsteps and orient myself with his field notes.  I wanted to survive and heal from the same disease Jung suffered.

I owe Jung my life for this assistance, as I would have had no idea how to proceed without the initial container of his language and example.  I was familiar with other religious and spiritual traditions (and sampled them), but none of these helped keep my path "true" in the least.  Instead, they fed the looming madness that seemed to trail and taunt (and sometimes control) me.  Jung's language was a panacea, enabling me to find brief but essential moments of clarity.  It is out of gratitude for this "medicine" that I continue to consider myself a Jungian today (despite many deviations and heresies) and work in my shadowy, agonistic fashion to serve the "treatment" of the Jungian tribe.

Another identification factor for me with Jung was his response to the same kind of confrontation/Calling.  Like Jung, I did not merely want to endure and pass through this experience.  I wanted to understand it as thoroughly and accurately as I could.  Not everyone is (and probably very few people are) so analytically inclined.  Certainly, even as Jungianism centers around an "analytic community", most Jungians seem contented with religious artifacts, dogmas, and totems and do not also ask what these things are in themselves, what they are objectively.  But Jungian psychology originated (and was practiced by Jung) as a analytical enterprise.  And it was this analytical orientation that differentiated Jungian psychology from a religion.  Jung was (again, as the Red Book amply demonstrates) an astute and powerfully driven researcher of the "soul".  As much as he championed "experience" with the unconscious, he seemed more motivated by (and more adept at) the desire to know, verifiably, what the nature and artifacts of the unconscious really were.  It is this analytical, objective, and often rationalistic Jung that, in my opinion, has all too often been lost as a guide in Jungian and post-Jungian psychology.  But it is this Jung that is most responsible for Jungian theory . . . and it is this Jung that is, I believe, most extraordinary and rare.  By contrast, Jung the guru and/or spiritual adventurer was merely of a type, a generic personage who did not especially set himself apart from others of his kind.

As I undertook my own self-experiments, even from the first years of my Jung-illuminated individuation event, I began to pencil practical revisions into the margins of Jung's guide book, to note what "worked" and what didn't in the field.  It would be nearly two decades later that these notes were reconstructed into a theory of individuation.  For most of the interim, it never occurred to me that a "theory of individuation" was of any use.  Individuation, like survival in the wild, was a practical art.  My eventual desire to recast my experimental "field notes" into an intellectualized theory came about only because I tried to talk to other Jungians about the stuff of these field notes and found they had no idea whatsoever I was talking about.  Understanding eventually that my practical Jungianism was heretical, I felt a need to better formulate it and describe it as logically and clearly as possible.  Only then did I find myself wearing the shoes of a "revisionist".  Before this, I simply felt that my "revisions" and "heresies" were logical applications of Jung's own ideas and principles.

The stuff of my revisions will be laid out and argued in the following essays, but there is one general difference that I will set down here.  Much of my early individuation work was focused (like Jung's Red Book dialogs) on interactions with anima figures.  I have transcribed and commented upon the highlights of this anima dream series at the Useless Science forum.  This served as the mystical bedrock of my individuation event.  In more recent years, especially as I tried to have discussions with other Jungians about the anima and animus, I came to see that what I had long felt was a very elegant and purely archetypal encounter was largely foreign to many Jungians.  I started calling this stage of individuation in which the animi figure is discovered, engaged with, valuated or redeemed from the shadow, and then eventually initiates the (heroic) ego, the "animi work".  The animi work is (as I experienced it and only very recently found corroborating evidence for) extremely archetypal and should (like all individuation motifs) be traced back to the mythos of shamanic initiation, where the shaman's marriage to a spiritual spouse is a common factor of his or her initiation into full-fledged shaman-hood.

The animi work is also what a great many fairytales describe (typically those that end in marriages that endure "happily ever after").  The shamanic and folk (and alchemical) precedents of the animi work are substantial, but (as I found out) the animi work is not well understood at all among Jungians.  The reasons for this are complex and require careful analysis to explicate (this analysis will follow).  For now, I will posit two potential reasons why the anima work is not adequately understood through the Jungian paradigm of individuation.  First, as much as Jung and Jungians have indulged in the adoration and analysis of fairytales, the archetypal constructions that Jung most used and Jungians inherited tend to derive more from the heroic epics of great patriarchal civilizations, especially ancient Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian cultures.  I believe that the renderings of archetypes like the hero and the animi portrayed in fairytales stems from an even more ancient and pre-civilized source.  Perhaps the origin of these heroic archetypal fairytale motifs is the narrativizing of prehistoric shamans who explained (in song, poetry, dance, and theater) just what their spirits were doing in the other world while their bodies remained in the material world of their audiences and patients.

In other words, heroic epics and cultural myths (especially of the patriarchal cultures on which Western civilization was founded) are archetypally degenerate.  Jung did not adequately recognize this, and Jungians are the heirs of this distorted archetypal theory.  It has lead us to (often subtly but importantly) misread the very texts we have used to corroborate Jungian theory.  And of course there are many, as all our texts were written or redesigned in the historical, modern era.  They have been culturally recontextualized, and wherever this cultural recontextualization also served the promotion of a modern, patriarchal ego-ideal (like Gilgamesh or Heracles or Siegfried), distortions of the prehistoric shamanic archetypal structures and dynamics arose.  Many fairytales (even those rewritten in the last few centuries) do not suffer from serious distortions like these because they have never served as vehicles of promoting a cultural ego-ideal.  This is also why fairytales have just as many female as male heroes, while cultural myths and epics depict the journeys of only male heroes.

The second reason that the animi work is not well understood among Jungians is that Jung was extremely ambivalent about his own anima experience.  On one hand, Jung sets a stellar example of the kind of psychic awakening and development that can come out of valuatively engaging with the animi (as personification of the unconscious Other).  Not only did he write the anima dialogues that went into the Red Book, he rewrote them in fancier language and elegant calligraphy and accompanied them with detailed oil paintings.  Not many people would give so much time and consideration to their animi.

On the other hand, Jung spent more time "fighting off", rejecting, chastising, denying, and demonizing his anima during these engagements than he did wooing, valuating, loving, and learning from it.  He ultimately and definitively refused to be initiated by the anima.  And he developed a rationalization of a theory holding that the anima was both essential soul and wicked temptress that had to be approached while maintaining one's stoic autonomy.  This in spite of all he knew about the historical symbols like the alchemical Coniunctio or the hieros gamos.  It appears to me that Jung felt any "unions with the god/goddess" had to be conducted only intellectually and rationally so the ego could maintain its separateness and sanity and not become a victim to the "dark side" of the god.

Here it is absolutely essential to recognize that this attitude of Jung's (right or wrong, we will not argue for the time being) is utterly in defiance of archetypal mysticism, in which the human and the divine Other do in fact unite.  The Jungian method of individuation deviates in this essential factor from conventional mysticisms.  I cannot even begin to express how massive a difference this makes, and how dramatically it snowballs as Jungian theory is spun around this core of "anti-mysticism".  And again, I reiterate what I wrote above regarding Jung as more of a rationalistic, objective, "soul researcher" than a mystic.  The dressing up of Jung postmortem as a mystic or spiritual adept while downplaying (and often even forgetting) his rationalistic proclivities is an act done in bad faith.  It turns out Jung the rationalist dominated Jung the mystic once all the tallies are taken.  Jung the mystic is not a figment of the Jungian imagination, but the predominance of Jung the mystic in Jungian constructions of the founder is simply an unfortunate and self-deceiving wish fulfillment fantasy.

The period of individuation I call the animi work encompasses all of Jungian individuation.  It is not the end of the archetypal process of individuation.  Or rather, whatever we would like to call the instinctually organized process of post-adolescent psychic growth, adaptation, and development . . . Jungian individuation only makes up a small (but very dramatic and important) portion of it.  Moreover, one of the reasons that Jungian individuation is said to have no end or to be cyclical is that the deviations of the conventional Jungian paradigm from the archetypal animi work prevent the process from reaching its completion.  That is, Jungian individuation is habitual or like a complex in the sense that it is destined to fail again and again.

This is also to say that the animi work (and therefore Jungian individuation also, should it revise itself adequately) is a finite episode in the individuation process.  The languaging and relanguaging of the animi work can continue throughout life and until death.  But the event of the animi work itself is not only finite, its duration (when properly facilitated) is often fairly short (often measurable in months rather than years and definitely not in decades).  This brief duration corresponds to the nature of the animi work as a rite of passage or initiation.  How we understand, live out of, and dynamically language that initiation is a massive undertaking that will take years (probably decades) to come to any kind of fruition and usefulness.  But the event of initiation itself is like a scarification, a ritual wound struck once and worn ever after.

There's no sugar coating it.  The implications of this critique and revision are massive.  They suggest that the Jungian house of individuation is built upon sand.  The bad news is that this is, I fear, very much the case.  But the good news (not nearly as dramatic as the bad news, regrettably) is that the phenomenal artifacts of the individuation process Jungians study are very much the right ones.  There is just a fly in the Jungian individuation ointment, a poisonous element (based largely in the two factors just mentioned above).  I believe this "taint" or parasite can be extracted and that the Jungian "waters of life" will then be able to clarify.

Rationally, this revision doesn't ask that much.  To a non-Jungian, it is probably six of one, half-dozen of another.  The real challenge in achieving this clarification of individuation for Jungians, though, is relinquishing the habitual death grip on some very sacred cows.  Cows like "all heroic figures are inherently inflated", or "the anima and animus are always morally equivocal and must be related to with great caution", and most of all "Jung was the Risen Christ and messiah of the modern soul whose gospel is the way, the truth, and the life".

That is, I am arguing that the main thing standing between the prevailing Jungian individuation paradigm and theory and more accurate, more archetypal/historical, and more functional ones is a quasi-deification of Jung.  So long as we believe (even if only unconsciously, as is the case with many "post-Jungians") that Jung was a great mystic who had more or less the last word on individuation, Jungian individuation will flounder, and its waters will remain dark and unsustaining.  Additionally, Jungian individuation theory will remain highly esoteric, arbitrary, cultic, and incompatible with more scientific psychological methods and ideas.

The completion of the animi work is not the "master work" of individuation.  It is an initiating threshold that must be passed through in order to begin the so called Great Work depicted in alchemical mysticism.  So, to put it into those alchemical terms, the animi work (which again, encompasses and transcends all of Jungian individuation) is like the derivation of the alchemist's prima materia.  The culmination of this first and essential process is indeed the Coniunctio, but Coniunctio in alchemy is not a hieros gamos, not some transcendent and elating union of the conscious and the unconscious or of man and God.  Coniunctio, unequivocally, is death . . . the product of dissolution or dismemberment.  And it is followed by Nigredo, blackening, decay, putrefaction.

The skewing of Jungian individuation feeds the perversion and misunderstanding of the alchemical process, where, classically, union (of Sulfur and Mercury, Sol and Luna, or the heroic ego and the animi) is equal to death and NOT some kind of transcendent rebirth.  There is enormous misuse of the alchemical terms Coniunctio and Nigredo in Jungian parlance, and this misuse compounds the dangerous misunderstanding of individuation.

I will argue that the alchemical model is more functional than the Jungian.  The alchemical opus corresponds, like shamanic initiation and fairytale heroism, to the true individuation archetype (which I will generally call, the mysticism).  Alchemy is in fact an inheritor, a true heir, of the shamanic tradition (and no doubt some of its symbolism), as Mircea Eliade makes quite clear in The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy.  It makes for a difficult situation.  Alchemical allusions and terminology have become signature Jungian affectations, no doubt contributing (along with many other Jungianisms) to a disconnect with other academic and scientific fields.  And yet, despite extensive research on Jung's part (much of it quite thorough if not terribly well organized), Jungian psychologization of alchemical symbols and processes suffers some fatal flaws.  It would be easier for a progressive, revisionary Jungian if alchemy were just a bunch of gibberish and Jung's psychologization of it fundamentally pointless.  Then alchemy and its extreme convolutions and complexities could just be set aside.

But as it turns out, alchemical mysticism or Hermetic philosophy depicted a crucial turning point in the history of human mysticism.  Medieval alchemy (like Jungian psychology) attempted to depict the archetype of mysticism in proto-scientific, quasi-material terms.  Alchemy, which mostly died out with the advent of modern chemistry, recorded the last episode of practical "soul work" in human history before the languaging of the soul fell into ruin.  Jung's valuation of alchemy showed intuitive prowess, but he was still a "modern man in search of a soul".  In search of, not in relationship with.  Jung's ideas suffer from the problem he addressed: reinventing the wheel that had for millennia been mysticism.

The alchemists also carried the torch of the shamanic mystical tradition and symbolism through much of the Christian era, even elucidating the initiatory and shamanic elements resident (but dormant) in the Christian myth.  Alchemy carried and preserved the "material soul" during these centuries of anti-material, Platonic Christianity, until it was relinquished to modern science . . . which regrettably suffered from an overly reductive, positivistic rationalism more directly inherited from dogmatic Christian theology than from highly imaginative and complexity-tolerant alchemy.

Revisioning the psychology of alchemy is a book-length project in itself, so later parts of this essay will only touch briefly upon the relationships between alchemy and individuation.  Additionally, the alchemical opus depicts a much more extensive process than Jung's individuation paradigm does.  This essay will spend much more time reworking the stages of individuation Jung and Jungians have most concerned themselves with than it will on the more esoteric and subtle facets of later individuation.

One last thing to clarify is that I do not, in criticizing Jung's theories, mean to air some kind of general disrespect.  I can think of no higher form of respect to pay Jung than the devoted attempt to build on the foundation that he laid.  It is quite possible to marvel at the accomplishments of the man while also disagreeing on some of the finer points.  That should go without saying.

During most of my 20+ years as a Jungian, I adhered mostly to the letter or Jung's ideas.  I know what it is like to accept and not reflect upon the many Jungianisms Jungians take for granted and do not analyze or evaluate.  It was only gradually that I felt forced to question these assumptions . . . as they began to show their flaws in practice.  If one does not attempt to apply Jung's individuation theory as a kind of quasi-spiritual, psychotherapeutic discipline, I suspect one will not stumble upon the seams and frayed ends of the theory.  But to live and practice individuation is to need it to be a functional instrument and languaging tool.  To take individuation as a totem or object of belief and projection and identity construction, one doesn't need an individuation theory to be robust and highly accurate.  Just as a religious believer doesn't need God to be perfectly defined and beyond reproach.  That's what rationalization and imagination are for.

When using Jung's works as a foundation, we are faced with a great deal of complexity and seeming (as well as actual) self-contradiction.  As frustrating as this is for a reader of Jung. I am sympathetic to the condition and construction of Jung's writings.  He was trying to language a complex, dynamic object (the psyche) in a way that connected ancient religious ideas and terminologies to modern thinking.  Jung's project was a languaging project.  Specifically, it was a psychologizing project.  I believe it was more a languaging project than, for instance, a religious or mystical or even philosophical project.  Jung meant to bring older (often archetypal) ideas about the human soul into a suitable modern dialect.  He was not necessarily trying to tell the world things about the soul that had never been known before.  He was trying to treat a kind of Orwellian wound in modern language that prevented us from being able to talk functionally and with sophistication about the soul.  It is in this sense that Jung was part of the romantic tradition of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But that languaging project was a vast and complicated undertaking, and psychology itself, though modern, was (and remains) in its "pre-paradigmatic" infancy.  Jung's project served the religious and mythopoetic imagination more than it did the rationalistic, scientific, post-Enlightenment, positivistic trend of modern thought.  But his modern intellectual means, his inherited language and culturally constructed selfhood was distinctly rationalistic, scientific, and post-Enlightenment.  We could say (in Jung-speak) then that he was seeking the solution to a union of perceived Opposites.  How does one manage to get archaic mythic thinking and modern scientific rationalism to play nice together?

I don't think Jung solved this problem, but I do think he made some very noble and enterprising attempts to formulate a modern language of the soul.  Sometimes, he did not deconstruct the language of the day well enough to recognize its arbitrary cultural constructions, its prejudices and unfounded assumptions . . . and other times he did not deconstruct older religious and mythic languages well enough.  In Jung's finished product (not a completion of a task, but simply the state of things when he died), many cultural artifacts, both modern and ancient, remain and remain relatively unreflected upon.

With only a few exceptions, Jungians have not engaged in the conjunctive soul-languaging task that Jung devoted himself to.  Instead, they found in some of his attempts comfortable and idyllic grottoes tucked away from the modern world where they could sip a bit from the sacred font.  And this is where most Jungians set down their roots.  But I think that these anti-modern grottoes of thought and language were for Jung more like weigh stations where bits and pieces of his thoughts paused briefly while he figured out how to bring them together and into motion with other thoughts.  This dynamic and ongoing reassociation effort has never been an important (or remotely conscious) thrust in Jungian thinking post-Jung.

A vaguely parallel effort has moved forward in recent years to connect Jungian thinking with postmodern academic theory.  I suspect that the desire behind this is to pick up some of the scraps that fall off the academic table (rather than say, attempt to innovate in either the liberal arts or social sciences . . . occasional declarations of such intentions strike me as overblown and fantastic).  Misguided though this effort might be on some levels, it may inject some languaging awareness into Jungian thought.  The struggle then will be whether Jungians can maintain a sense of Jungian selfhood and not be totally assimilated into postmodern theory and study.  I would prefer to see Jungians glean some languaging awareness from these fields without begging from them or risking assimilation and loss of selfhood . . . but it is hard for Jungians to break out of the habitual complex of oscillating between grandiose puerism and shame-ridden (shadow-identified) dejection.  The relationship with the puer in Jungian culture is home to serious malignancy.

Regardless of whether Jungians will start to pursue a renewal and continuation of Jung's languaging project en masse, that project will be (and has been) my own chosen path.  And what I have found in picking through the Jungian corpus is that Jung has done most of the preliminary work for us.  That is, he has established the prima materia necessary to select and distill from.  Jung's great strength as an intuitive thinker enabled him to sniff out the psychic material one would need to construct a viable, contemporary psychological paradigm.  He had his fingers in all the right cookie jars: myth, fairytales, religion, pre-modern/tribal culture, mysticism, dreams, creativity, art, imagination, spiritual disciplines, psychological pathologies, evolutionary biology, and what is now called complexity theory.  Jung was drawn to these areas and driven to valuate the psychic phenomena or data these realms of human thought and experience produced.  And he not only valuated them separately, but recognized the value of their interrelation.

Jung was a great valuator of psychic phenomenon, and I think it is this pattern of valuation that serves as the thriving root system of Jungian identity.  It is what draws people to Jungian thinking and what sustains the compulsion and numinousness of Jungian ideas and objects of study and wonder.  It is my attraction to and valuation of this same root system that leads me to consider myself a Jungian (even as I have many languaging conflicts with other Jungians).  The problem we face (as a Jungian identity group or tribe) is that we do not have a very conscious appreciation or understanding of our relatedness.  We do not very well understand this root structure of psychic valuation or pay much attention to its survival and growth.  Despite the powerful emphasis on the "unconscious" and the "depth" of the psyche in Jungian dialect, our eyes remain fixed on the manifest, egoic, and superficial constructions of Jungianism.  That is, the terms, beliefs, compulsive identity constructions, totems, taboos, and trends.  We speak frequently of God and gods, of soul and spirit and numen and "anima mundi", but we relate to these things only superficially and to the degree that they forge for us a collective sense of identity.  That is, we respond to their value, but the response is unconscious.  We feel the value of these things, but we don't know what it is we are feeling or why.  Our experience of these valued things is totemic and static, and the things themselves are related to only as language-totems, husks, informational constructs, signifiers loosed from what they signify.  This is the superficial stuff of our tribal identity construction, and we feel only the unconscious drive to preserve these husks, having no insight into the dynamic, complex objects these husks were originally meant to represent.

We remain in a state of fundamentalism, where the text must be preserved vigorously and at all costs . . . a kind of defense of the Word of God.  But we relate to this God only through the defense of its Word, not intimately, not as a dynamic, complex, living entity or system.  We have clung to static informational signifiers at the expense of the very "soul" we so adamantly chant about.  This is what happens when languaging doesn't remain dynamic and responsive to the living and growing complexity of the thing it is designed to express and describe.  Jung spent his life trying to language the soul, and that process was one of continuous evolution and change as he responded to the shifting and many-faceted complexity of the object itself.  We Jungians have spent our decades since engaged in the worship of mere snapshots of the process that Jung himself engaged in.  We have mistaken the text for the object, for the god itself.  And so, we have lost the god, the source of living, dynamic complexity.

Jung, I contend, was a better valuator of psychic phenomena than he was a languager or psychologizer or interpreter.  On a valuative and intuitive level, Jung grasped the relatedness and importance of his object of fascination and study.  But his languaging intelligence trailed behind.  His collected works leave us field notes and piles of loosely organized but relatively unanalyzed data.  Yet it is this languaging Jung that has been deified by Jungians . . . even by those Jungians that struggle with and attempt to reject father Jung, the tribal founder and demigod.  Rejection of a deity (which is usually substitution of one deity for another) is a form of religious behavior, and that rejection or criticism is chosen instead of some kind of relationship to Jung the valuator.  Jung the valuator remains hidden in shadow, a kind of alien or invisible being.

I am essentially saying that we have erected false idols, idols that serve the defense of the Jungian ego and identity construction and do not serve the Jungian tribal Self.  We do not have a communal relationship with the Self.  Our Jungian endeavors are largely determined by the desire to satiate our egoic wants.  The study and valuation of the soul has been eclipsed by our need to have the soul languaged in such and such a way . . .  so that we can feel secure in our adopted sense of tribal identity.

The genuine process of individuation is a psychic movement that would dissolve and reconstruct this state of selfhood.  It would dismember the inflexible and inflated self-interest of prevailing Jungian egoism and reorient the intentional drive of Jungian identity to the facilitation of the Self-as-Other.  Therefore, my critique and revision of Jungian individuation theory is directed not merely at bettering the understanding of the individuation phenomenon, but also at the treatment of the Jungian soul (or Self), which I feel compelled to respond to due to my valuation of it.

Individuation is always directed at this manner of project, is always devoted to the valuation of the Self system and the relanguaging of the Self in highly aware egoic terms (as a Logos).  To individuate is to feel this instinctive compulsion and to follow its organizational thrust until it is no longer truly "optional" or chosen.  For the individuant, the egoic facilitation of the highly valuated Self system principle has become the new seat of identity.  Individuation itself is a finite process of establishing this condition of devotion and responsibility to the Self-as-Other.  It is ultimately an ethical movement.

Go to Individuation, Part 2, "Wholeness and Selfhood"

Atheism, Jungianism, and the Jungian Problem of Religion (Part 2)

A Diagnosis and Proposed Treatment of the Jungian Religious Disease

The Symbiotic Jungian Relationship with the New Age

Some contemporary Jungians (e.g., David Tacey) have written books and articles stumping for a revised Jungian (and at times, human) perspective on religion.  Many Jungians find the association of Jungianism with New Age spiritualities not only dismaying, embarrassing, and unfortunate but also dangerous and potential destructive for Jungianism.  I agree with this position, but I have not seen enough fundamental differentiation of and from New Age ideas and obsessions, even in these Jungian critics, to really catalyze change on this front.  What I see in the Jungian unconscious regarding its religiosity and New Ageism is a much deeper, more pandemic issue of the Jungian shadow than is more widely acknowledged.  As is so often the case, when it comes to Jungian religiosity (and religious quackery) there are not "just a few bad apples".  The problem is systemic, and the draw of New Age thinking and spirituality is written into our souls.  It is not merely "those people over there"; this shadow is universally Jungian and we all contribute to it in some way.

In other words, I wish to point toward an internal source of this problem, and that source is the spiritual hunger that burbles within all of those people drawn to Jungianism.  It may be impossible to have it both ways, to have and cherish this hunger and also not have it lead to numerous perversions and delusional obsessions and misdirections.  At least some of this straying is inevitable . . . and I think the best we can do is to first acknowledge that this is our collective shadow for which we are responsible and then to try to more effectively analyze and understand our spiritual hunger.

Of course, it has always been known to Jungians (and Jung addressed this pointedly himself) that spiritual hunger is problematic because it leads (most of the time, even) to some form of delusion and/or self-demolition.  We use the term "inflation" most commonly . . . and in Jung's most detailed writing about the spiritual individuation experience (in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology), he even states that some degree of this inflation is inevitable in any individuation process where "the unconscious is assimilated".  But Jungian thinking on the issue of inflation has, if anything, regressed since Jung's important but still fairly vague reflections on the issue.  As I have bemoaned repeatedly since before the beginning of Useless Science, inflation is a terribly bungled issue in Jungianism . . . and it is reasonable to assume that this bungling is largely a matter of Jungians characteristically suffering from some degree of inadequately addressed and still unconscious inflation.  Most Jungian literature that address inflation (in patients, but never in analysts!) takes a very condemning stance.  Inflation is the Jungian bogeyman.  But we need to be able to look at it more constructively and talk about it more honestly and intelligently if we are to ever treat the Jungian shadow or the problem of our New Ageyness.

The issue of inflation is related to another facet of the New Age problem in Jungianism.  The superficial reason that Jungianism attracts so many religiously flaky and delusional people is that it offers an attractive system of valuation of unconscious contents, visions, and fantasies.  It promises awakenings and approvals of inwardness . . . and it delivers very nicely on that promise.  But the deeper (and rather less attractive) reason it draws so many New Agers is that the Jungian model of individual seems to lack (and generally does lack) a sense of systematic discipline.  There are very few if any observable markers that describe an individuant.  No one really knows what individuation is, even Jungian analysts . . . and so no one places any regulations or standards on it.  Jungian individuation is just another occult, tribal mysticism where learning the lingo and assuming the posture is indistinguishable from any "real" growth or transformation.  The Jungian language in which individuation is discussed (a notably mystical and religious one) is simply too vague and cannot set specific definitions on individuation.

So, wagging fingers at those crass New Agers and their hypocritical, delusional spiritualistic indulgences is utterly beside the point.  The real problem starts at the very core.  Notably, Jung and the Jungians have purposefully eschewed the construction of a unique and specific discipline around individuation.  Instead, they have encouraged misinterpretation and misappropriation of the concept by constantly comparing its motifs to those of spiritual disciplines and mystical practices.  I don't mean to suggest this "amplification" is absolutely inaccurate.  But individuation lacks the structure of many of these disciplines.

Also, instead of developing the concept of individuation in a more scientific way while using previous mysticisms and spiritual disciplines as data, Jungians have concerned themselves with marveling at the artifacts of individuation: active imagination fantasies, visions, unconscious-inspired artwork like mandalas, etc.  One off the most thorough studies of an "individuation process" comes from Jung's own writing in the essay "A Study in the Process of Individuation" (in The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious).  But this essay concerns itself largely with the interpretation of extremely abstract (and therefore projection-prone) paintings without significant effort to explain, in more scientific terms, what the patient who painted these mandalas was experiencing.  This sort of essay has set the precedent for Jungian "individuation studies" . . . and it is next to useless, a mere curiosity.  Granted, individuation is notoriously difficult to gauge or study . . . but I believe Jungians can do significantly better.  Once again, it all comes back to self-examination and shadow work.

In my experience, the presence of artifacts and fantasies of individuation are not an indication that individuation is actively engaged in.  Specifically misleading are fascinations with and visions of numinous objects, ideas, personages, and events.  This numinous affect makes for very compelling experiences, but there is very little indication that these visionary experiences lead to or are a significant part of the kind of systemic reorganization process that a successful individuation or psychotherapy might entail.  One of the most common forms of inflation in Jungian and New Age adherents is a conflation between numinous experiences and individuation events . . . and there is a tendency to believe that fantasizing about a thing is equivalent to the reality and presence of the thing.  But the spontaneous unconscious commonly presents its symbols in very dramatic, even grandiose, fashion.  Additionally, there is a correlation (in dreams and visions) between the affective intensity of an image or event and the vagueness of that event.  By "vagueness", I mean that there is not yet a viable Logos or egoic languaging for translating and understanding the numinous image.  This may seem counterintuitive.  In waking life, the intensity of something is usually directly related to its proximity.  But when it comes to unconscious contents, it is common for things that are "farther away" or not very well defined but which still contain powerful concentrations of affect (i.e., "complexes") to seem more overwhelmingly intense (perhaps because it is inadequately facilitated . . . in this case, languaged . . . affect that leads to disruptions and eruptions of the psychic system; think plumbing rather than, say, radiation).  As we develop a conscious language in which to understand these contents (and interrelate them in active memory systems), their affective intensity is diminished.  Affect, in this sense, is a pre-language.  It can tell us that something is valuable to us, but without a developed egoic language with which to translate and interpret it, we cannot know what the thing is or understand the complexity of our conscious relationship to it.

In my interaction with Jungians of New Agey persuasion, I've noted tremendous and stubborn resistance to languaging some of these affective phenomena.  Instead, they are worshiped . . . and the result is a kind of spiritual grandiosity that is devoted to separating those who "embrace" the affective object and those who "just don't get it".  In other words, tribal boundaries are unconsciously defined based on belief in these numinous objects and ideas.  The faculty of human intelligence that languages and narrativizes is devalued (sometimes as the disparaged "thinking function" . . . held to be valuatively inferior to the feeling and intuitive functions, specifically).  This inflated dynamic tends to make such believers into babes at the breast of an affective Great Mother figure.  The goal of this belief becomes the commitment to the providence of this breast.  To question any of this reality is "masculine aggression".  The chief externality of this dynamic is an unconscious shadow projection onto those who disagree with the cultic ideology or don't worship the "right" god.  All of the so-called "masculine aggression" is displaced in a passive-aggressive fashion onto these "infidels".

Of course, even if Jungianism has been religiously lax, it still (on the professional level) sees through and perhaps condemns that kind of cultic formulation.  But what has happened with many New Age Jungians is that when conventional Jungianism expressed skepticism and concern with New Age exploits, the New Agers parted ways with Jungianism.  It was just another breast to suck from . . . and if it doesn't give the milk that's wanted, some other magical breast will be set up in its place.  So the relationship of some of these New Age Jungians is basically parasitic.  They want and will take, but they will only take what they want . . . and they don't give back.  This will, of course happen, and it can't be prevented entirely.  The problem in this for Jungianism is a kind of codependency.  Many Jungians have been more or less happy to court and encourage New Age hangers on and watered down interpretations of Jungian ideas.  On the positive side, we sympathize with their spiritual hunger and perhaps with their suffering or brokenness.  On the negative side, the professional Jungian community needs an audience and patients in order to legitimize itself.  If Jungians distinctly cut off all the flaky New Agers and asserted a rigorous scientific discipline, they would lose many readers and patients.  So the symbiotic relationship of Jungianism and the New Age runs deep and roots down right in the heart of the Jungian shadow.  It is well and good to grumble about New Age misappropriations, but do Jungians really want to pay the consequences of a more scientific, rigorous, and therefore exclusive theory?

I think that as we proceed in our examinations of the New Age and of modern religiosity, we need to look very carefully at these issues.  They involve tremendously difficult ethical decisions and often serious gambles with fate.  Jungianism after Jung has become precisely what its customers have paid for it to be.  If it really were to reinvent itself, it would have to reinvent its customers.  It cannot exist while dissatisfying its customers.  But what are Jungians really devoted to: satisfying the desires of these customers or treating them and seriously studying the psyche?

That Old Nagging Question: Is Jungianism a Religion?

I have read numerous responses from Jungian analysts to this recurring question (or accusation) over the years.  Unanimously, these analysts dismissed the charge.  Jungianism is not a religion (chuckle, chuckle, scoff).  Personally, I'm not so sure about this.  Jungian analysis is well aware of its similarity to shamanism . . . and some Jungians have actively embraced shamanic ideas and symbols.  Shamanism is perhaps the oldest form of religion . . . a religion distilled to its original, tribal roots.  Claims contradicting Jungianism's religiosity on the basis of its scientific nature are spurious.  We cannot have it both ways . . . and our dedication to science and scientific methodology has been severely lacking for a long time (this issue is more complicated when it comes to developmental school/s of Jungianism, but I won't address that here).

Additionally, we have seen it as within our purview to support general religiosity, encourage belief in the paranormal (and perhaps even the supernatural), and stump for the valuation of an "ensouled world" or animi mundi.  More pointedly, it is well known that Jung advised Jungian analysts not to discourage patients from practicing and exploring their religions . . . and he even felt that many analyses (especially of those in midlife) required a return to a religious perspective of one kind or another.

But can Jungianism be a powerful religious advocate without promoting religions or religiosity?  Can we advise patients to "get religion" while also insisting that the Jungian method is not religious?  Can having a religiosity that is flexible and not well defined be the same thing as not being a religion at all?  We may benefit from a look back at the state of religion in the Roman Empire around the time Christianity was forming (1st century CE).  The religious "marketplace" was huge and diverse . . . and the attitude many people took toward religion was eclectic.  There were many similarities between that time and the modern New Age situation with religion.  "Monotheism" at that time was a Jewish idea (and considered radical and disturbing by many gentiles) . . . but even Judaism had numerous sects and divisions (many of which bore very little resemblance to the Judaisms of today).

In other words, the idea that to be a religion is to be monotheistic and specific/restrictive about beliefs and practices is a notion prejudiced by the monotheistic Judeo-Christian inheritance we in the West take for granted.  Monotheism and controlled belief do not define religiosity or religion.  Jungianism cannot weasel out of its religiosity on this argument.  That Jungianism as religious advocate offers people a welcoming way into religions and religiosity more so than it offers a final and unquestionable dogma to believe in does not really differentiate Jungianism from many of the old pagan religions in the 1st century Roman Empire.  The attraction of proto-Christianities during this period and the next few centuries was largely based on the success of Christian syncretism and its compatibility with various preexisting religions . . . from the worship of Dionysus to the elite state religion of Sol Invictus to Mithraism to Egyptian mysticisms and even including Judaism.  Judaism had many attractive elements to certain Roman gentiles: its personal and powerful experience of God, its proclaimed supremacy (as the only true religion), its focus on dietary laws and purifying the body, and its compelling history of persistence in the face of persecution, sometimes even bordering on and resembling "Dionysian madness".  Also, Jews were the "Other" in the Roman Empire, perhaps more so than any other people.  Yes, they were largely hated, but they were also enshrouded with intriguing mystery (perhaps we Americans might want to reflect on the relationship and fascination we have had with Native American spirituality inspite of the atrocious treatment of and prejudice toward these peoples we have also upheld).

Rather than unconvincingly avoiding our status as "religion", I think Jungians need to start facing and living up to the charge.  We have invited religious responsibility upon ourselves . . . and we need to have a more effective and honest way of addressing this responsibility.  Even if we are "only" awakening Jungian patients and readers to the unconscious, this is a religious process, and one that requires strong guiding principles and a continued study of how functional these principles (and the way we language them) are.  The personal integrity and professional ethics of individual analysts is not enough.  This is a tribal issue . . . and it is inherent in our Jungianism (not merely in our individual practices).

A related issue is indoctrination of patients (and readers, for that matter).  As I have written previously, indoctrination into a tribe can have "curative" effects on many people.  Dissociation (from the sacredness of community and from the sacredness of the instinctual Self) is enormously common in the modern world.  Most people just need to be part of something sacred, something where instinct flows through action (and sociality), where Eros binds people together into like-mindedness and like values.  Jungian analysis is typically good at promoting this re-tribalization.  It offers new gods to ponder and commune with, new experiences to value, and a sense of approval for any such indulgence.  Even if the Jungian tribe is abstract for most patients and readers, believing one is part of the tribe can still be effective.

Curiously, Jungian analysis can be more problematic for individuals who do not merely want to belong to a tribe, but who want the courage (and perhaps the tolerance) to be unique and independent regardless of which tribe they affiliate with.  Of course, we all want to be accepted for "who we are" . . . that is the line we will chant, at least.  But I question this truism.  Do we really want to be "who we are", independent, unique, separated on some level from our tribes?  I don't think so.  I think that most people (even most Jungians) want to find an identity that is connected to a tribal group that facilitates them.  This couldn't be a tribe that completely stifles their sense of themselves (or their Selves), but there is a notable difference between being accepted into a group for being "kin" and being accepted by groups as an "other".

The process of individuation often promoted (at least superficially) in Jungian psychology is more closely related to the latter.  To individuate is to become other to tribes and tribally-identified people.  I mean to say that we cannot accurately call the process of acquainting people with their unconscious and a new religious symbol system individuation.  It is more accurately a form of indoctrination, one that is similar to shamanic "faith healing".  That is, in many tribes, the shaman is responsible for addressing the diseases of tribe members who have fallen out of the sanctity of tribal Eros and cannot participate normally within the tribe.  The shaman her or himself is probably just such a person who has learned about the intricacies of the relationship between a self and a tribe first hand, and has therefore become something of an expert on the issue.  The healing the shaman performs in many cases is not a facilitation of individuation, but a return of the individual to a state of connection to tribal Eros.  Thus, a "soul retrieval" . . . a soul retrieved from the void and returned to the tribe and to functional collective living.

Various traumas can shake us out of our tribal connectedness for periods of time.  This tribal Eros is a transference phenomena . . . and when we suddenly wake up in the wilderness alone, we do not know who we are anymore or where our tribal kin has gone.  The shaman performs a ritual that helps guide the person back to this transference object.  But once the person returns, they are plugged back into the "Matrix" of tribal Eros.  This is not the same thing as individuation.  The process of becoming a shaman, on the other hand, is very much parallel to an individuation.  But we must note that the shaman is forever cut off from the unconscious access to tribal Eros and must always remain in a liminal space where the tribe is concerned.  This liminality is what grants her or him the magic or mana to perform the shamanic rituals.  But they can never again be a normal member of the tribe . . . for intimacy with the shaman is itself terrifying and alien (a transference phenomenon) for most tribe members.

The complication that arises when we try to map the shamanic/tribal paradigm to the modern world is a matter of the Problem of the Modern.  Specifically, tribal living is no longer very possible or very survivable.  We are all disenfranchised tribally speaking (thus the appeal of cults and clubs).  We are therefore always hungering to return "Home" to a tribal environment.  But the modern world doesn't permit this without some kind of repercussion.  That is, in general, modern tribes do not have access to many resources, so those who devote themselves entirely to these tribes must give up many of the resources the wider world offers.  Such devoted tribe members today must also greatly curtail their egoic strategies and diversifying ability to communicate and interact with people of various ideologies, persuasions, and tribal affiliations.  Tribes in the modern world are always in grave danger of going extinct.

Although our unconscious drive is to seek tribalism, consciously we might be able to conceptualize that drive and redirect it.  The conventional Jungian way to do this is to form an individual relationship to the instinctual Self (which Jungians call the collective unconscious . . . and its collectivity is its equivalency and archetype of the tribe.)  The collective unconscious or instinctual Self is not a substitute for others and relationality with those others, but it can be a significant substitute for contact with the sacred.  What we call sacred is what enables the flow of instinctuality.

The condition many individuals find themselves in in the modern world is one in which, despite unconscious drives, literal tribalism is unappealing.  What I believe happens with many of these individuals is that they stumble toward the individuation process with little or no guidance.  They might find ways (usually only if they have guides and mentors who are present and have enabled them) to make a few steps into that process . . . but they very, very rarely find a satisfactory way through and out of it.  Individuation is too complex and demanding for most of us to manage it alone.  Also, it is a work contra naturum . . . or more accurately (as I have put it in the past), it is Nature's Work Against Nature.  By that alchemical phrase, I mean that on one hand, individuation opposes our instinctual nature (which is to belong unconsciously to a nurturing tribal Eros).  Yet, on the other hand, the drive that catalyzes individuation and pushes it forward is equally an instinctual drive.  It is, in fact, the reconceptualization of the very same drive that pushes us to find and connect with our "True Tribe", our kin.

What individuation drives us toward (instead of a literal tribe of others) is the source of our instinctual imprinting, our archetypal potentiality or what Jung sometimes called the psychoid realm, where the ego can become acquainted with instinctual structures and principles of psychic organization that are not overly contaminated with the dysfunctional imprint of the outer environment.  These primary imprinting potentials or instincts or archetypes in themselves must be relanguaged and re-imprinted through the human ("egoic") faculties of conceptualization and narrativization.  Initially, they are concentrated complexes of "energy" or numinous affect with prelingual essences.  But these Self principles of organization can become refreshed and reactivated through a psychic diet of "Good Medicine".  That is, we must begin to feed ourselves on ideas, images, and "sacred" objects that provide functional hooks for instinctual imprinting.  As our diet improves, these affects will become better defined, forming symbols and personages.  A personage in the psyche is an indication that we feel familiar enough with the content to see "intelligence" or personality (ego) in it.  With adequate familiarity, these affective or instinctual personages can be engaged with and valuated by the ego (sometimes experienced or languaged as "integration" of these personages or their attitudes and perspectives).

There is a very good reason that a psychotherapeutic "talking cure" works: our species is dependent on languaging in order to revise its psychic system.  What we find in the advent of individuation is that some of the building blocks of this new languaging (or what I define as Logos) always existed in our memories on more "quantum" levels.  That is, we might have generally thought of a specific image or thing as a whole construct or complex . . . and that complex was tainted with dysfunctional imprinting potential.  But once that complex is broken down into parts (which are less familiar to us) . . . a parallel of the alchemical process of dissolution, those parts can be reassembled into functional imprinting Logos conduits.  This will initially be experienced as a numinous "self-organizing" process.  In fact, our dreams are always building and rebuilding connections for us.  But what we find at the beginning of individuation or healing is that these spontaneous restructurings of memory suddenly "click" for us and enable instinctuality to flow through them.  These images become numinously charged or soaked with instinctual affect.  They will probably go on to serve as building blocks for later, more complex constructions (for which the ego is also consciously contributing language).

Roughly halfway through a process of individuation (and some time after all of the stages of individuation "mapped" by Jungians), a major transition or threshold must be passed through.  There are many symbols and many languages that cluster around this threshold, many ways of seeing and understanding it, but I feel that the most important general shift at this stage is one from accepting the Logos and reorganization of languaging that the instinctual Self spontaneously offers to actively and consciously making, constructing, creating, and revising that Logos.  Alchemical symbolism seems to fit this transition the best, especially when a kind of "dual opera" is depicted, a First Opus and a Second Opus.  The Rosarium Philosophorum demonstrates this as elegantly as any alchemical text.  The signature alchemical symbols marking this transition are the Coniunctio-to-Nigredo shift into "blackness" or "first matter".  Something divided has come together into one out of sheer instinct and mutual longing for that oneness . . . and the energy of that attraction drove the entire process "automatically".  But now that that energy has dissipated, the quest and purpose is suddenly vague, the attractive and wondrous Other is no longer "there" to be felt and engaged with.

In alchemy this is considered the beginning of the work . . . that is, the beginning of the intentioned, egoic work, the discipline.  What came before and culminated in the Coniunctio was merely the precondition and preparation for this work.  It is in this alchemical tradition that I have often used the term "Work" to describe the intentioned Logos-creating process that is engaged in in partnership with the Self (which provides affective reactions to the ego's attempt to construct a viable Logos or Self-facilitating language in which to exist and adapt).  Regarding that ego/Self partnership or shared psychic objective, the onset of the Nigredo does not simply deliver it to the ego's desires.  The affective and instinctual source must first be found within the darkness of the Nigredo's wilderness.  It must be chiseled out of solid rock or excavated.  The "lesson" of the Nigredo is that the sacred or the dynamic organizing principle of the Self is not provided (for example, just because the ego is hungry and faithful).  The relationship to the Self comes only through the dedication to a process of active facilitation of instinct.  "Prayers" to the Self are no longer answered . . . for it is not the job of the Self to facilitate the ego (or "keep the ego together"), it is the ego's role in the psyche to facilitate the instinctual Self.

The Nigredo transition in Jungian psychology is not really understood or even recognized most of the time, because the Jungian process of analysis does not deal with this rather terrible threshold of initiation.  The Coniunctio in Jungianism is held up as an abstract and always distant goal, the phantom of a Holy Grail shining in the distance, an object of totemic longing and worship (or, alternatively, as a transferential merging with the analyst . . . an even greater interpretive error).  The Coniunctio of the alchemists is a parallel door to the return of an individual into the circle of tribal Eros.  But whereas the instinctual Self is projected onto the tribe in the state of tribal Eros or participation mystique (and is then sustained unconsciously and unintentionally through acceptance of and obedience to the totems and gods of the tribe), in individuation, the relationship between the ego and the Self is personalized . . . and the ego becomes entirely responsible for the well-being and maintenance of the Self.  That is an immense responsibility and very difficult to establish or maintain.  It requires a kind of heroic dedication to the Self's principles, a willingness and ability (which must be gradually learned) to take on the role of the Syzygy within the psyche.

There is no viable Jungian literature on the individuation process at or after this threshold because the Jungian method does not actually promote this event (the alchemical symbols that depict post-Coniunctio stages of the Work are misinterpreted by Jungians and misplaced into earlier, pre-individuated psychic states).  Jungians have discovered some of the artifacts of individuation . . . fantasies, fairytales, symbols, and so forth that are common parts of the paraphernalia of individuation . . . but these things are not woven into a structured system or theory.  So individuation itself as an instinctual, complex, and systemic "opus" is not actually studied by Jungians . . . only some of its artifacts are.  And these artifacts remain rather talismanic and poorly understood . . . perhaps in the sense that the discarded garbage of the distant past can become the cherished treasures of museums and archeologists.  Jungians have not yet reconstructed the thing itself from the artifacts it has discovered.  This is not necessarily due to some kind of moral failing.  It is much more likely that Jungians have not managed to piece together the individuation process because it is rarely necessary to understand this process when conducting an analysis.  Jungian analysands don't necessarily want or need to individuate.

And I am not advocating any kind of forced revision of Jungianism where individuation is insisted upon in analysis.  My concern is primarily with the ethical and scientific issues surrounding the Jungian "selling" of individuation.  It is important for Jungians to both know what is really going on with this process and to not misrepresent to patients the purpose of analysis.  I have very mixed feelings about the actual promotion of individuation.  I cannot ethically advocate a general promotion . . . but when it is desired by an individual, I think Jungian analysts should be prepared to help illuminate the process as much as possible.  Some people need to individuate in order to heal . . . and conventional Jungian analysis does not adequately prepare these people for this need or offer enough guidance through or understanding of it.

I digress on the subject of individuation because it relates specifically to our problem with religion . . . and, I think, could point to ways to better address that problem.  For instance, failing to differentiate individuation from tribal indoctrination is not merely a technical analytic failure.  It is also, on another level, a failure to understand the psychology of religion.  I would argue that the psychology or religion is primarily twofold . . . and it breaks down along the same lines as the Jungian indoctrination vs individuation issue.  Religiosity is driven by two main instincts: the instinct for sociality and the preservation of the sanctity of tribal Eros in a group (usually through the worship of gods or dogmas or the observation of tribal taboos) and the instinct for adaptation to environments hostile to our evolutionary adaptedness.  The latter adaptive instinct drives individuation, which is an adaptation to the tribally-hostile environment of the modern.  The medium of this adaptation is conceptualization or languaging or, if you prefer (although it is vaguer), consciousness.

In historical religions, there is commonly a tribal or social thread (composed of creeds, dogmas, taboos, totems, laws, etc . . . all of which serve the purpose of forging and preserving a tribal identity that every tribe member shares) . . . and a mystical thread (a core narrative that depicts the shamanic or heroic individuation quest where one individual finds a way to commune with the god of the tribe . . . and perhaps even founds the tribe on the basis of this communion).  The mystical aspect of religions usually resounds with individuation symbols and artifacts . . . and these can sometimes serve as models and guides for the "mystics" of the tribe.  More commonly, they are totemized and made into objects of worship for tribe members rather than models to emulate.

When Jungians advocate religious involvement, awakening, or return to their patients, it creates a slippery slope.  What is really being advocated: totemic worship, tribal conformity, and an obedience to dogma . . . or the individual mystical journey of individuation (using the symbolic artifacts of a religion's mysticism as stars to steer by)?  Obviously the first option could be difficult to merge with analytic work.  But the latter cannot be blindly and indiscriminately advocated.  That is, the Jungian analyst who advocates these things must truly understand the pitfalls of the process in order to help the patient navigate those pitfalls.  Not all mysticisms are alike or created equal.  Each has its own particular dangers.  Many religious mysticisms have been warped to some degree over many years of dogmatization (for instance, much Christian mysticism was considered heretical by the Church and prohibited from being considered "Christian").  Individuation events also tend to be highly personalized (not surprisingly).  So the possibility of individuating in precisely the same way a previous mystic in the tradition did is very unlikely.

Jungianism allows for the individuality of individuation by adopting a polytheistic religious advocacy.  But in this openness, it also opens the door to all the cumulative problems of various religions.  That is the price of egalitarianism and openmindedness . . . but again, are the Jungians truly aware of these religious problems?  Are they adequate critics of religion?  Perhaps critics is the wrong word.  Are Jungians adequate psychologists of religion?  Do we have to know what a thing is and how it works in order to prescribe it?

Generally, Jungians have felt such knowledge is minimally valuable.  They do not question the process as long as it seems to work.  Analysis is a creative and experimental enterprise, and it is important to always be open to learning and taking cues from the work, from the transference.  There is no valid psychotherapy without moments (probably many) of confusion, "irrational" intuition, guesswork, self-examination, and of course, error.  Human relationship is never perfect . . . and despite some analysts' efforts to refute this, analysis is a human relationship (and should be).  But can we be satisfied with not knowing, ethically speaking?  Is what we remain ignorant of allowing us a selfish form of bliss?  Just because something seems to work once or twice without the analyst understanding why or intentioning it, does this mean she or he is off the hook for ever trying to understand it or that it cannot be better understood?  Don't we have an obligation as scientists and investigators of the psyche to keep trying to understand?  Don't we hunger to know the Self?  Or is faith in magic synchronicities good enough for Jungians?  If so, can we charge our clients professional psychotherapeutic fees based on such qualifications?  If the qualification of Jungian analysts is that they are "true believers" in the magic of the psyche, does this result in the attraction and courting of analysands who want to go to a "faith healer", who want to believe in something magical? To the degree that this is the (perhaps unintentioned or unexamined) Jungian professional stance (among more classical rather than developmental Jungians, at least), can we be truly surprised or legitimately complain about the appropriation of Jungianism by the New Age?

I don't mean to entirely reject the notion that psychotherapy can be a "healing of faith", but should Jungians be promoting faith?  Is it perhaps possible for Jungians to be neutral and to work from a more scientific understanding that beneath the artifacts of faith, issues of sacredness and instinctual systemic functionality are operating?  These sorts of questions are very difficult to answer.  Many are perhaps unanswerable.  And although individual Jungians have chosen to grapple with a few (in the literature) from time to time, we have not made a serious collective effort to analyze these issues.  If the Jungian tribe was merely a tribe of believers, a religious order, or a kinship group, such analysis would not necessarily be important.  But the Jungian tribe is a tribe of analysts.  If we cannot or are not willing to analyze ourselves . . . not merely in individual training analyses, but as a tribe and as tribe members, have we truly made every effort to both assure our work with patients is as ethical as it can be and honestly say that we are focusing consciousness and energy on the dynamics of our tribe and the issues of its survivability?  Are we adequately treating ourselves as a group?  And if not, why is this our analytical weak spot, our shadow?

It is not only possible and essential to make such self-examinations of our tribalism (and its religiosity), it is also entirely within the purview of Jungian analytical theory as the confrontation with (and perhaps the "assimilation" of) the shadow.  We are already set up to do this self-analysis and shadow work . . . so we must ask ourselves why we have been "non-Jungian" in this refusal and hypocrisy.   By what rules did we pick the kind of Jungians we were going to be?  Conscious and ethically governed rules . . . or unconscious, complex-driven rules?

The last thing I would like to add and leave the reader with is the suggestion that, despite the oddity and scarcity of Jungian atheists, it may be precisely these Jungian atheists that are needed to bring self-examination, shadow work, scientific and intellectual rigor, and functional ethics back into modern Jungianism.  I don't mean me.  I am merely intuiting my way into a welling up of reactive shadow that is part of the Jungian tribal soul.  I mean that those of us with skepticism and ethical concerns all need to make a concerted effort to tap into this welling up of shadow constructively.  We cannot be ashamed or frightened of our skepticism, or our shadowy frustration with Jungian foibles.  Nor can we merely "act out" in rejection of these dubious inheritences (as it seems to me is quite common among those Jungians retreating into psychoanalytic ideas and splinter tribes).  There is intelligence and wisdom in this murking belch of affect.  There is value to be mined.  There is a muffled heroic Calling and the wounded moaning of the Jungian Self.  There is a great deal of work to do . . . and we cannot bask in the mystical wonderland of our puerism forever.  Something in us is dying while we flit off to entertain our soaring urges and blissful wonder.  While we go off to play in the psyche and its museum of artifcats, who will tend to the spiritual and instinctual welfare of the tribe?


Atheism, Jungianism, and the Jungian Problem of Religion (Part 1)

To proclaim religion is a "problem" for Jungianism to a Jungian audience is perhaps to assure the hackles of that audience are raised before any argument is even made.  That is a gamble I will take because this topic demands both provocation and intelligent consideration (the former will no doubt be inherent in my argument and the latter will hopefully emerge through and maybe even from my argument).

As I have asserted repeatedly over the last years, I am an atheist.  A Jungian atheist.  As a Jungian atheist I would make a nice case study or perhaps a specimen jar oddity.  I have stated briefly in previous writings that I feel Jungianism is actually fully compatible with atheism.  It is after all a psychology . . . intended as a scientific study of the psyche.  Jungianism is not a religion and should therefore have no conflict with secularism's refusals to believe in a literal God or in gods or other mystical of spiritual things.  But the study of psyche (as Jung often noted) is a study of phenomena without a declaration of what those phenomena literally are or are founded on.  That is, we cannot say what something like the anima is, but we can recognize this ordered phenomenon in many dreams, stories, and artistic creations.

Despite some desire to be provocative, I do not want to "cure" Jungianism of its tendency toward religiosity and even belief.  There has been a wave of secularist/atheistic writing in recent years (sometimes referred to as the "New Atheism", see also the "Brights movement") that has reinforced what I (and many others, even other atheists) feel is a very dated and at times even scientistic tribalist slandering of religion.  These arguments against the usefulness of religion do not treat religion as a complex psychological phenomenon, nor do they effectively and scientifically seek to study the mind that generates religion and religiosity.  That is, dismissive pseudo-theories have been given and dressed up in scientific garb (e.g., the theory that religion is a dangerous meme that takes over human brains and pushes the human species toward self-destruction . . . advocated by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett).  But these are really only tribal arguments, propaganda pieces that are meant to sort Us and Them.  These scientific claims are very spurious and poorly thought out.  In fact, by disseminating these tribalistic dogmas, Dawkins, Dennett, and other atheists are simply engaging in the very same religious behavior as other religionists (albeit without an anthropomorphic godhead on their tribal seal).

I find myself being just as critical of this brand of atheistic tribalism as I am of other more conventional religions.  Of course, New Atheism doesn't have the significant history of mass atrocity behind it that the Western monotheisms do . . . and there is something to be said about that.  But the "problem" of religion in general is not an issue of irrationality or belief in things that are unreal or insubstantial.  The problem is that the tribalism surrounding religions can very easily negate a kind of universal or humanist ethics that the modern world and the human species are dependent on for their survival.  Tribalistic ideologies devalue otherness, and when otherness is devalued, the treatment of others is not governed by the same sense of ethics and empathy that governs the treatment of fellow tribe members.

The psychology of human religiosity is, far from being some sort of mistake or anomaly, one of the most fertile gateways into the understanding of the human psyche in general.  We are, as it has been so frequently stated in recent years, homo religioso.  But one of the critiques trumpeted by the new atheists is well worth considering.  Namely, that traditional views of and relationships to religion are no longer functional in the modern world.  That is, a literalizing view of religion and religiosity that remains intentionally ignorant of human psychology and human religious predisposition (not to mention human religious history) is not compatible with the demands modernism places upon us.  Simple belief is no longer the answer . . . and the (perhaps Catholic/Augustinian but probably much older and more intuitive)  idea that religiosity can be pursued in the modern world through "faith alone" is plagued by externalities.  Religiosity and the pursuit of knowledge are not incompatible.

The combination of religiosity and the pursuit of knowledge (small-g gnosis) in the modern world took an enormous leap forward in the theories and valuative attitudes of C.G. Jung, who was and still is seen as a "psychologizer" of sacred things by some, and a mystical prophet of a New Age religion by others.  For someone of my own persuasion, Jung's language was a clarion call proclaiming that religiosity could be pursued without the sacrifice of knowing or the abandonment of the pursuit of scientific methodology.  In this sense, perhaps he was a "modern prophet" . . . but a prophet of a modern religiosity, NOT of an ancient, tribal religion or mysticism.

One of my strongest continuing gripes with today's Jungianism is that it fails to be truly modern and to respond to the Problem of the Modern with which we are all presented.  Its doctrines and remedies have become regressive.  That is, it prescribes a romantic return to neo-primitive tribalism in the effort to "re-ensoul the world" . . . or rather, in the effort to bring a sense of the sacred back into the lives of disenfranchised modern humans.  And to be fair, this can, in fact, work . . . so long as we are able to find a safe tribal space, a kind of ideological "Tower in Bollingen" where we can be free of modernism's disenfranchisement and desacralization.

But I find this solution flawed and, for the majority of people in the world today, inadequate.  It does not treat the Problem of the Modern (one facet of which is the lack of the sacred in the modern system of existence) but rather fights to withdraw partially from it.  This solution strikes me as fairly selfish*.  It only works for the individual practicing the withdrawal (or for the withdrawing tribe, if the individual can attain membership).  It does not therapeutically treat the larger modern world and its construction of personality.  Sacredness is merely being horded into a kind of introversion or inwardness that exhibits no social responsibility . . . and that kind of anti-social inwardness is one of the major problems of the modern already.  It could be said, then, that this Jungian inrtoversion of sacredness is (albeit in a small way) contributing to the very Problem of the Modern it is supposed to present a remedy for.  Again, the issue of externalities of tribalism.

* in the Jungian paradigm, this period of introversion is supposed to be temporary, a necessary first step.  But the subsequent period or extraverting, or what I would consider taking responsibility for the maintenance of the sacred in the world, does not seem to ever develop.  There is, at least, very little Jungian writing that describes how such a process might work . . . and so the extraverting stage remains only as an abstract idealization, an intangible goal.

Many contemporary Jungians have recognized this tendency toward anti-social inwardness as a signature Jungian problem . . . and as a result we see both critiques of this trait in Jungian literature and propositions for "getting Jungianism out into the world".  I'm not sure we Jungians are ready to make any evangelical forays into the larger world at this point . . . and at the risk of appearing to contradict myself, I would recommend that we first spend some serious time and energy contemplating our relationship to modernism.  I wouldn't go so far as to call the attempts at "social theorizing" and interpretation of modern social trends in recent Jungian literature "embarrassing" (or rather, to the degree I find them embarrassing, I recognize the emotion as a product of my own at times uneasy relationship to my Jungianism), but they are not a very good representation of the best we Jungian have to offer the wider non-Jungian intellectual world.

And this is one of the arenas in which the conventional Jungian attitude toward religion and religiosity is a problem.  Even as we have inherited one of the most fertile valuative systems for the understanding and preservation of the sacred, our Jungian religiosity tends to strike the larger, modern, and much more secularly-influenced world as a rather cultic evangelizing.  We tell ourselves that we really don't care about this impression because we are "true believers" in the know about the soul . . . and because we are really only concerned with those who would answer the Call of the unconscious and be interested in such a return to religion.  But this attitude must be seen for its true immaturity, irresponsibility, and self-destructiveness if we Jungians are to every enter and eventually constructively influence the modern world (and the modernism in the patients our analysts treat).

Self-contentment with our "wisdom" and grasp or religion is at odds with our survivability . . . and we cannot sit back in an ideological stupor waiting (with utter certainty) for the big mothership to return and whisk us away to the paradise we so deeply deserve.  We have an intellectual and valuative legacy to uphold and perpetuate . . . and it is not merely a legacy of belief.  It is a scientific legacy of rigorous investigation, a legacy of "psychologization" (negative connotations be damned) . . . not metaphysics.  Perhaps we would rather be poets, crafting songs to the psychic Muse, wondrous odes to sanctity.  Yes that would be easier.  But this is a puer fantasy.  We are not the bards of the psyche.  That is a temptation that Jung himself decided to throw off . . . and although I feel he did so with a lack of refinement and full understanding, there is something to be said about his decision to pursue science instead of art.

Speaking as a poet who has put aside poetry to pursue Jungian psychology, I am well acquainted with the puer pitfalls lying in wait for those Jungians who would poeticize the psyche.  Even as a poet, I found this romanticism unacceptable.  Poetry today is no longer romantic in this sense . . . it is actually rather ruthless and embittered.  The kind of poeticism we Jungians have sought in our thinking and writing is a shoddily constructed fantasy that is neither good for our tribe or for larger human thought.  Poetry, real poetry, real art is a brutal enterprise, not a retreat into the childlike creative wonderland we have too often imagined it to be as we have reconceptualized it as art therapy and active imagination.  I am not criticizing the value of these creative expressions as therapy.  They help open the doors that must first be opened for healing to progress.  But speaking as an artist and not a hobbiest, the act of creation should involve the whole person, should be an ethical struggle, a painful labor mentally and spiritually . . . and not merely a revelation or mysterious vision.

Active imagination as Jungians so often conceive of it is a kind of tourism of the deep psyche . . . but real artists are locals who must live there in that economy.  If we would like to be artists, then I suggest we strive to be real artists and not tourists or analytical patients.  We have, perhaps, lost the paternal rigor and seriousness that Jung himself used as a guiding principle . . . and we are now caught up in the maternal fantasy of the puer, where everything seems possible and expansive, yet we only exist within the confines of a glass jar.

The pursuit or religion or spirituality, when genuine, is just as rigorous and dangerous as the creation of art.  By accepting a Catholic attitude toward faith in the numinous unconscious and its products, we indirectly cripple Jungian thinking, Jungian science.  I feel we should make greater efforts to keep separate the believer and the knower within ourselves . . . and not stifle our knower but allow it to pursue the psychology of religion and spirituality with all due skepticism.  Even as we might also choose belief.  I am not saying that we should ultimately settle for dissociation (as Jung himself seemed to) where on some level we "know" God, but on another level, we still seek to know.  Personally, I don't feel spiritually divided.  I see no contradiction between scientific naturalism and the devoted valuation of the sacred.  How I have resolved this personally is perhaps not universally prescribable.  Every individuation journey is by definition unique . . . and these journeys don't end in dogma, in belief, in the Holy Word unquestioningly accepted.  There is no One Truth awaiting us at a stage of "enlightenment".

The bitter irony of our problematic, dated, and simplistic Jungian relationship with religion is that we have not only failed to be adequate (and adequately modern) scientists in our brand of religiosity.  We have also failed spiritually to relate to and preserve the sacred.  Spiritually, we have been far too selfish and tried to hoard a "natural resource" of sanctity rather than use it to drive adaptation and progress in our existence and intellectual contributions.  We have, I would argue, misunderstood spirituality . . . which is not about providence.  It's about responsibility.  Spirituality isn't a declaration of dependence on a god but an acceptance of responsibility for the preservation and welfare of that god (or object or system of value).  This is fairly evident in the many spiritualities and mysticisms Jungians have studied and "Jungianized" . . . but this common knowledge is not very well put into practice in our Jungianizations of religion.

I am not proposing that we trade one god for another . . . say Jung for Freud or mysticism for materialism.  I am not advocating a tribalistic solution.  I am saying that we need to deepen and clarify our relationships to our gods.  It is in no way essential for Jungians to "become atheists", but there needs to be a greater awareness and acceptance of the perspective of a Jungian atheist in our thinking and investigating.  We cannot proceed merely with faith as our vehicle, not as psychologists.  Skepticism and self-criticism are also necessary . . . and not out of some ideological or tribal implementation of rationalism, but out of the instinctual necessities of survival and the ethics of valuation of the sacred.

We should, of course, continue the Jungian tradition of skepticism toward rationalistic materialism.  But we cannot merely hold science and rationalism in suspicion out of a tribal prejudice.  We need to turn a gnostic criticism both on modern science and on our own inclinations toward cultic and ancient religiosity.

Jung and Christianity

Although Jung's view of Christianity was certainly complex and at times somewhat blasphemous (e.g., in "Answer to Job"), he should be considered a "Christian thinker" perhaps at least as much as he should be seen as a "modern thinker" or a "neopagan thinker".  The imprint of Christianity is foundational for Jung, and this has gone underexamined by Jungians.  Much Jungian attention has been given to Jung's thinking on mysticism, Eastern philosophy, Gnosticism, occult and paranormal phenomena, etc. . . . but we seem to overlook the "less exciting" and New-Agey fact that Jung was writing largely within the Christian paradigm.  That is, in order to find value for these things that have become New Age staples, Jung had to contend with his Christianity and Christian mentality.  He addressed them as a "Westerner" . . . and that essentially meant (for Jung) "as a Christian" (or one who has grown up within the Christian symbol system).

There is no doubt that Jung stretched his Christianity very far (especially for a man of his time) . . . but it must be understood that he had a Christianity to stretch.  Christianity was a significant, fundamental factor in Jung's personality and thought.  What he created and proposed, he did in relation to Christianity.  When Jung wrote "Answer to Job", he was creating a personalized Christian theology.  It doesn't matter as much that it was "heretical" (by Catholic standards) as it does that this personal thinking about religion and God took place within the confines of Christian language and symbols, Christian imagination and fantasy.  In other words, Jung accepted the foundation of Christian symbolism in his psyche and (like the alchemists) sought to pursue his personal individuation journey within its boundaries (i.e., his use of Eastern and non-Christian symbols and ideas was made as a Christian thinker relating to these as "orientalisms").  He did not question the validity of that foundation.

Although Jung was critical of the Church in some ways (and especially of Protestantism), he was not truly a political critic or historian of Christianity.  For Jung, Christianity was largely a psychological phenomenon . . . not a social or institutional one.  He treated the Church and its symbols and dogmas as if they were spontaneous eruptions of the unconscious, as if they were dreams or myths.  He did not examine these texts as if they were constructions influenced by political and personal agendas.  But today, in the so called postmodern or post-constructionist era, this is how we examine texts.  We no longer accept that there are pure emanations of the unconscious that can be accepted as singular psychic artifacts.  We break things down to more quantum levels.

It is perhaps too much to ask of Jung that he should have done this, should have been more postmodern than modern (of course, psychoanalytic/Freudian analysis of texts is in the postmodern and Derridean DNA and prefigured literary deconstruction).  But for contemporary Jungians, the continued lack of sociopolitical scrutiny and deconstruction of religious and mythic texts is inexcusable and one of the many reasons we Jungians have failed the Call of the modern.  We have (unconsciously, for the most part) carried on Jung's tradition of viewing Christianity and Christian symbolism as pure/unconscious psychic artifacts and have not made any further attempts to deconstruct and scrutinize Christian ideas and symbols.

This is, I suspect, partly due to the fact that Christianity doesn't interest Jungians as much as neopagan, Eastern, and occult symbol systems do.  Therefore, we have largely ignored Christianity.  But such ignorance is dangerous, because Christianity is at the core of our Jungian DNA, driving the construction of many of the theories we have inherited from Jung and continue to advocate.  The attitude we have taken toward Christianity has served as the mold from which our attitude toward all religious ideas and texts has been coined.  Even as some postmodernism has slipped into the language of Jungians (most notably James Hillman and Wolfgang Giegerich and their advocates), we have still failed to turn the postmodern analysis these ideas connote on our own precious things and on the construction of our Jungianism.  Instead, we have used postmodern languaging merely for play and escapism (as it is also most frequently used in other academic areas, in my rather biased opinion).

I feel it's time to start deconstructing Jung's thinking (as well as our collective and personal Jungianisms) in relation to its cultural constructions and influences.  An excellent first step has been taken in this enterprise by Sonu Shamdasani (Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science, 2004), whose scholarship has demonstrated that Jung's psychological thinking grew out of a specific intellectual milieu and context (and did not spring entirely from his own unique genius, as the Jungian myth has preferred to have it for decades now).  Still, to my knowledge, Jung's Christianity has not been so thoroughly analyzed.

Just as Shamdasani's contextualization of Jung's theory development has not rendered Jung entirely un-unique, I don't think a study and deconstruction of Jung's Christianity would entirely negate his  contributions to the study of religion and theology.  But it would, I suspect, be disruptive to Jungian tribalism, because it would help us look more squarely at our Jungian shadow.  A historical study of Christianity grants us a uniquely detailed peek into the construction of a world religion.  Yes, historical texts and artifacts relating to the construction of Christianity are scarce . . . but compared to any other major religion, there is a wealth of information from which we can draw general theories and make psychological observations.

Christianity (as we know it today and as Jung knew it) grew out a period of great turmoil and tribal splintering, a proto-modern collision of cultures and technologies.  Christianity can not be understood adequately within the cloak of its own myth and propaganda (as Jung and Jungians have typically sought to understand it).  What we consider Christian today is what survived and triumphed from a centuries-long, outrageously bloody battle among numerous pre-Christianities.  And the victor (eventually called the Roman Catholic Church) rose to its position not by the glory of truth and God's will, but by political intrigue and a willingness to ally itself with Roman military might, a willingness to allow this might to forcibly and physically wipe out its Christian competitors.  We still often react to such ideas as if they were ideological propaganda (an element of the preposterous "anti-Christian persecution" that many in the enormous Christian majority in Americ like to fantasize about and bemoan), but this is merely the product of our own desire to believe and an ignorance of the historical evidence that has long existed.  I recommend that anyone interested in the deconstruction and analysis of Christianity and its texts spend some time at the snarky (at times offensive) but thorough and well-annotated website JesusNever Existed.Com.  The author of this site, Kenneth Humphreys does have an agenda . . . but he has also managed to pull together a great deal of interesting and well-documented scholarship.  I must also admit that my own final step into self-branding as an atheist was due to my extensive reading of this site and the many books and articles it uses as sources.  Until that point (and in a very Jungian fashion), I had developed my own personal, very heretical Christianity.  But as I was able to historically deconstruct it, I realized that even that construction was problematic.

Most Jungians will not be able to stomach JesusNeverExisted.Com, and that is a shame, because the resistance  speaks to the problem of Jungianism as a religion rather than a science.  Still, we are, as Jungians, not obligated to be believers.  Our legacy is one of investigation and psychologization.  In our Jungianism, it is not faith that we must ultimately preserve, but truth or gnosis.  Our search for the soul is not one (collectively and professionally) that is meant to end in belief.  We have come to the soul not to worship but to observe, measure, contemplate.  And these things can be done in the name of also relating to the soul, valuating it.  Faith from a distance is not valuative, it is egoic and self-serving.  To experience a thing, we must seek to know it as it is in order not to colonize it and make it over into the image of our projection.

I would argue (in accord with Jungian thinking) that alchemy (a favorite Jungian subject) was a more spontaneous eruption of the Christianized unconscious (of the middle ages) than Christian doctrine was.  Alchemy was a reaction of the unconscious in an attempt to counterbalance Christianized consciousness.  This was, no doubt, the source of Jung's fascination with it.  Alchemy attempts to revivify the instinctual unconscious and the Self's organizing principle within (or at least not in direct opposition to) the Christian symbol system . . . and this is precisely why it is the most significant precedent of Jungian psychology.  The alchemical inheritance and the alchemical quest are the same as those in the Jungian paradigm.  We Jungians can no more ignore our Christian heritage than the alchemists could.

Jung saw alchemy as an intellectual heir of Gnosticism, and although this can be hard to establish at times, there is a very legitimate sense in which he was correct.  Gnosticisms were the main competitors with proto-Catholocism both before the Romanization of Christianity and for a century or so after.  These Gnosticisms should not, I think, be romanticized as the "great lost Christianity".  But what is extremely important to understand is that proto-Catholicism was powerfully influenced by these Gnosticisms.  Yet this influence was largely reactive and defensive.  Catholicism was constructed in relation to Gnosticism, and it was constructed intentionally as an "anti-Gnosticism".  As a result, many of the writings of the early Church fathers were devoted to developing anti-Gnostic dogmas and arguments.  The Catholicism we inherited was largely constructed, not as a "true Word from God", but as a system of arguments and propoaganda refuting and dispatching of Gnosticism and Gnostic ideas.

When Gnostic ideas disappeared (partially going underground and syncretizing with other deposed paganisms), it was not because "no one believed them or took them seriously anymore".  It was because the remaining Gnostics were persecuted and murdered and their texts burned (in fact, some of the "Christian Martyrs" adopted and sensationalized by the Church were essentially Gnostics).  That is, Catholicism went to a very severe political and military level to defeat its arch ideological nemesis.  The Gnostic texts we have today come from two general sources: either they were preserved by the Catholic Church fathers as objects for which Catholic counterarguments were made or they were hidden away by Gnostic-sympathizers and forgotten for over 1000 years only to be rediscovered in the 20th century.  Amazingly few texts survived the Catholic book burnings.  Gnosticism (and later, alchemy) are a part of the Christian shadow . . . and the Christian Shadow-Self.  They represent what the Christian consciousness most hates and fears.

Jung was a modern champion of the Christian unconscious who sought to do "shadow work" on the Christian shadow.  Jungian psychology of religion is significantly constructed by this position, but it has taken up the task without concern for the historical and cultural constructionism of Christian mythology.  As a result, the Jungian "hostility" toward and heresy for Christianity exists unconsciously.  To drive Jungianism toward the modern, we Jungians will need to begin taking a conscious approach toward our Christianity.  And to understand ourselves and our roots, we will have to look more closely at our own historical and unconscious relationship with Christian ideas and symbols.  We will need to analyze our own Christian construction.

I think we will find that, despite Jung's heretical positions toward Christian dogma, his limitations were Christian (or Catholic) limitations.  That is, when he failed to form an adequate (and adequately modern) psychological perspective on the phenomena of the unconscious, his failings were very much like the failings of the Christian consciousness as demonstrated by the dogmas of the Church.  I feel this Christian limitation is most notable in Jung's dualistic construction of the Self and other archetypes (as half light, half dark), his particular understanding and valuation of "faith", and in his treatment of alchemy.

Although many Jungians have continued the obsession with alchemy Jung initiated, they have regrettably approached alchemy entirely through Jung's own scholarship and perspectives.  As important as alchemy is to Jungian psychology (as both source and nuisance), Jung's psychologization of alchemy was significantly flawed.  I am not of the "purist" school (perhaps best represented by Adam McLean of the that holds that to psychologize alchemy is to misunderstand it.  This is, in my opinion, a religious attitude (and, of course, I am an atheist).  Everything can be psychologized.  There is no such thing as a pre-psychological artifact of the psyche.  We must be very careful not to reduce these psychic artifacts too severely and sloppily (as we see in many of the Freudian treatments of the contents of the unconscious), but psyche has structure and laws (albeit laws of systemic complexity that are hard to pin down).  Ideally, psychological language should be directed at knowing as much as possible about any psychic phenomena.  It is always under revision, never satisfied with totemism or the language of belief.  To assert that alchemy cannot be psychologized because it is pre-psychological and deals with mystical or spiritual truths is just another kind of reduction that limits the true complexity of alchemical symbolism.  That is, to "psychologize" something is to honor its inherent essence and complexity to the highest degree possible.  This is at least so, so long as the phenomenon being psychologized is given the benefit of the scientific method where the analysis of data is careful, thorough, "detached", and always under revision.