Author Topic: The Complementarian Self  (Read 15409 times)

Matswin

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #15 on: March 30, 2011, 05:26:56 AM »
Matt, your notion of ego-dissolution proper (as against Jung's "inadequate" version) is, I contend, a projection of the reduction of the ego according to the ascetic (trinitarian) paradigm, on lines of mystic traditions. Jung objected to this view, and said that it is certainly proper that the libido turns inwards, away from the world, but the ego must be prepared to confront the unconscious archetypes (that are to be ignored according to ascetic mysticism). It would have a strong dissolving effect on the ego, were this to happen. Luckily, it doesn't happen with the healthy psyche.

One should not work to dissolve the ego. Had it been possible, I would not recommend it. The ego can only be reduced according to asceticism, the practice of self-denial and renunciation of worldly pleasure. It may require withdrawal from the material world to a life of meditation, as in the practice of Yoga.

I agree so far with you, that Jung is tendentious in his interpretation of alchemy. Comparatively, Murray Stein says that Answer to Job is also "tendentious". Jung accommodates the divine drama wholly within the psychological realm. Of course, this is psychologization par excellence, but Jung would probably only retort like he used to, namely that metaphysics and religious truths don't belong in his line of research. But as he gobbles up a large portion of the heavenly drama, his interpretation becomes a target for charges of psychologization anyway. Stein says:

"...The psyche replaces heaven and hell and all such metaphysical beings as gods and goddesses, angels and devils, as the field in which the essential conflicts rage and must be won or lost or worked through. And with this comes the ethical responsibility for ordinary mortals to take on the burden of 'incarnation'. Incarnation for modern men and women means entering actively and consciously into the battle of the opposites (good vs. evil; masculine vs. feminine), submitting to the suffering of this cross, and enduring this agony until a unio oppositorum is constellated in their individual souls. Each person is called upon to incarnate God, which means to bear the opposites inherent in God's nature." (http://www.guildofpastoralpsychology.org.uk/Media/LS285.pdf)

So Jung is very much an advocate of "ego-dissolution". However, you may be right in your assertion that this is not ego-dissolution proper, but this is simply because it is not a workable solution. Jung really portrays the path of the hero, and makes it the ideal of individuation, i.e., to throw yourself into the battle of gods and dragons. But the hero is an archetype. It is not a model of the ego. Jung realized this himself, when he was close to shooting himself (as related in his dream about the murder of Siegfried). But it was if he never really abandoned the hero as ego model. Perhaps the only way is ego-reduction. Jung says in Ps. and Alchemy:

"...This, in the alchemical allegory, is expressed by the King's cry for help from the depths of his unconscious, dissociated state. The conscious mind should respond to this call: one should operari regi, render service to the King, for this would be not only wisdom but salvation as well. Yet this brings with it the necessity of a descent into the dark world of the unconscious, the ritual (), the perilous adventure of the night sea journey, whose end and aim is the restoration of life, resurrection, and the triumph over death." (p.329)

In the Splendor Solis, The Third Parable, the King is drowning in the sea and he calls out for help. However, the text does not relate that an heroic individual dives into the sea to help him. Instead, when the morning comes the King wondrously resurrects by himself. The Splendor Solis goes on to describe how the body of a man with a golden head is laid waste, in order that he "might possess abundant life" (The Sixth Parable). In the Seventh Parable an old man becomes young again by having himself cut up and boiled. Obviously, to save the King is to let him go under and be thoroughly destroyed, in order for him to resurrect, thus acquiring new strength and vigour. The decapitated King is not the ego, it is the self, which Jung is well aware of.

Jung cannot substantiate the heroic interpretation of alchemy, as the rescue operation nowhere take place. To hasten the King's demise is the proper thing to do. This will eventually "rescue" him. Jung interprets alchemy according to the notion of "confrontation with the unconscious", but the dying and resurrecting King is not the ego. It is the self.

I concur with your appreciation of Jung's work, but one must be aware of its tendentious nature. Arguably, he so strongly wanted to accommodate both theology and alchemy within his psychological paradigm of "direct confrontation and integration" that he tends to overlook the empirical facts. Those alchemical texts which I know don't seem to say these things. They speak another language, of assisting the processes of Nature:

"...by art one affords assistance to Nature. It then decocts and putrefies by itself until time gives it its proper form. Art is nothing but an instrument and preparer of the materials - those which Nature fits for such a work - together with the suitable vessels and measuring of the operation, with judicious intelligence." (Splendor Solis: The First Treatise)

This doesn't seem very heroic to me, more of a silent work performed in solitude. Perhaps you are correct in your assessment that Jungians tend to be dogmatic. Richard Noll is perhaps correct in saying that it has cultic dimensions. Or maybe they are just unthinking. Hillman could be right in his assessment that Jungians aren't, as a rule, very clever. I have asked some Jungians to link to my homepage, but as I direct slight criticism against the Jungian paradigm, they won't afford me with a link.

The problem is that we get a warped view of the spiritual path. The way of the cloistered complentative is no alternative to most people. Instead the "alchemical" spiritual way can provide an answer. But if it becomes psychologized and misinterpreted it obviously has very damaging consequences. This issue is not merely a dispute over the misinterpretation of alchemy, it concerns the immensely important issue of how to find our way on the spiritual path.

Mats Winther

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #16 on: March 30, 2011, 06:15:53 PM »
I have yet to reach an initial satisfying understanding of alchemical symbolism as it relates to archetypal stuff...but my initial "posture" on it is that alchemical symbolism is simply the set of archetypal images pertaining to psychological processes that are self-conscious.  In dreams I have seen how natural materials have been converted into articial ("man-made") products like timber into lumber or raw ingredients into prepared foods.  In alchemy everything that is created is through some process that is partly conscious.  The substance is symbolic of the idea of consciousness or the ego as a psychic substance that is worked on metaphorically.  In a physical sense, however, there is no such thing as an substance with awareness.  Consciousness, in my view, is a very complex emergent quality of the physical universe, which, like language, has a complex source in physical substructures, but exists in what has been called the noosphere and not the biosphere or the geosphere, etc...

The ego is often batted around as a psychic entity but it is definied somewhat circularly as a complex attached to our consciousness.  My own view is that the ego is a "center" of psychic organization and therefore identifies itself as an order over a range of psychic behavior.  This order seems to be at odds with other "orders".  The psyche uses people to represent these various orders, presumably.  I imagine that when the ego begins to run out of room and finds that there is little new territory to conquer that is not already owned then it is forced to reconfigure itself.  This is necessarily a self-conscious process since the ego has to question itself. Alternately, I think that the ego, whatever it is, constellates the shadow, the anima and the Self, whatever they are (or alternately, some sort of basic neural infrastructure causes ego, shadow, animi, Self to mutually constellate each other).  At some point, the ego can no longer afford to assume it is alone and it must begin to negotiate with these other personalities which are actually created by the ego, but in a way that does not grant the ego a sense of control or ownership.  At some point the ego must begin to encounter this mystery of the other as itself and go through the various processes of transformation of which alchemical symbolism refers to. 

Its analogous, I suppose, to solving a Rubik's cube.  Sometimes psychic development is like getting that first side of the cube all one color.  This mainly involves making moves that do not greatly disturb your previous work.  Your first side of the cube, in a roughly linear way, becomes more and more solved until it is complete.   Sometimes psychic development means you have to reconfigure your world or who you think you are and reassess your goals.  In this case, once you progress past the first side of the cube you find more and more that to make progress you must disassemble what you have already accomplished in order to get more of the cube aligned.  Once you establish the various methods you have to trust them because it looks like most of the time the cube is getting more disordered than it is getting ordered.

I think alchemy is about those last moves you make to solve the Rubik's cube and this requires developing methods and implementing them long term even though in the short term they appear to do more harm than good.

Matswin

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #17 on: March 31, 2011, 10:59:53 AM »
The self-conscious ego is a late development in the psyche, so it is logical to think that the more archaic aspects of the psyche constellate the ego, and not the other way round. Since we are very much enveloped in the ego and its doings, alchemy probably compensates this, to focus on another centre of the psyche, namely the self. The self is archaic, which is why it is symbolized by a snake, the uroboros, or the serpens mercurialis. The alchemical operations are performed on the self, and they occur semi-autonomously. This is my view. The ego has developed so strongly in the latest millennium so it threatens to separate from the soil of the unconscious. Like Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince, the rootless ego goes to live on the little asteroid B-612. That's why it's necessary for the ego to  take root in the unconscious soil, as it threatens to lose contact with both instinct and archetypal meaning. Jung says that modern people are more and more suffering from instinctual atrophy.

Mats Winther

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #18 on: April 03, 2011, 03:26:43 PM »
Mats, I certainly agree with almost all of what you write (Reply #15 on: March 30, 2011).  And if I previously gave a different impression, it was not my intention to.  I do concur with your characterization of the alchemical Work as one in which the Art acts primarily to contain and support a process driven and organized by Nature.  The quote you supply from Splendor Solis states it a bit softly for my tastes, but generally I agree*.

* Actually, in checking up on this quote, I noticed that the context gives more credit to Art than what the quote decontextualized seems to.  For instance (from http://www.rexresearch.com/splsol/trismosin.htm):
Quote
The Philosopher’s Stone is produced by means of the Greening and Growing Nature. [. . .]  Wherefore when the Green is reduced to its former nature whereby things sprout and come forth in ordained time, it must be decocted and putrefied in the way of our secret art. That by Art may be aided, what nature decocts and putrefies, until she gives it, in due time, the proper form, and our Art but adapts and prepares the matter as becomes Nature, for such work, and such work provides also, with premeditated Wisdom, a suitable vessel.

For Art does not undertake to produce Gold and Silver, anew, as it cannot endow matter with its first origin, nor is it necessary to search our Art in places and caverns of the earth, another way to work and with different intention from Nature, therefore does Art also use different tools and instruments.

For that reason can Art produce extraordinary things out of the aforesaid natural beginnings such as Nature of herself would never be able to create. For unaided Nature does not produce things whereby imperfect metals can in a moment be made perfect, but by the secrets of Our Art this can be done.

Here Nature serves Art with Matter, and Art serves Nature with suitable instruments and method convenient for nature to produce such new forms; and although the before mentioned Stone can only be brought to its proper form by Art, yet the form is from Nature. For the form of every thing be it living, growing, or metallic comes into existence by virtue of the interior force in matter --- except the human soul.

But it must be borne in mind that the essential form cannot originate in matter unless it is by the effect of an accidental form, not by virtue of that form, but by virtue of another real substance, which is the Fire or some other accidental active heat. (from The First Treatise, Splendor Solis)

[...]

From the aforesaid it will be seen that he who will proceed properly in this Art, shall according to all Philosophers, begin where nature has left off, and shall take that Sulphur and Mercury which nature has collected in its purest form, in which took place the immediate action, which otherwise cannot be accomplished by anybody without art. (Second Treatise, Splendor Solis)


Probably one of the complications of my languaging is that I do not do away with the use of the term hero as a positive or useful figure/attitude.  In this choice, I decisively deviate from Jungian conventions.  As I mentioned in my last post (and have written extensively on throughout this site), I prefer to make a differentiation in my analysis of the data that contribute to the construction of a hero archetype.  I see the genuine hero as rooted in the shaman (and not as a conqueror or a spiritually mighty being) and as a psychopomp of sorts who is devoted to facilitating and valuating the Self-as-Other.  This hero can negotiate and communicate with the Self without distinct antagonism.  This kind of hero respects the Otherness of the Self and knows how to cater to it, feed it, sacrifice to it, assist it.  Although rooted in shamanic mythology (as all heroism is), the valuating hero is the hero we see most commonly in fairytales.  It can be either male or female.  It never slays or conquers, but wins the respect and aid of the Self (usually depicted in animal forms or as half-animal enchanted beings) by demonstrating a valuative rather than devaluing or antagonistic attitude toward the Self figures in the story.  This valuating hero is often a Holy Fool or simpleton (or is taken as one by his/her more cynical brothers or sisters or community).  S/he may defeat a Demonic figure, but never by direct force.  Rather, the valuative hero defeats the Demon by enabling or tricking the Demon into turning its aggressive rage against itself.

These are nearly universal elements of the valuative, fairytale hero that as far as I have seen have gone unanalyzed by Jungian writers.

Also related to the shamanic/valuating hero is the alchemical "hero" who is capable of tending to the Work in the vessel that Nature is guiding. In relation to the Splendor Solis quote ("That by Art may be aided, what nature decocts and putrefies, until she gives it, in due time, the proper form, and our Art but adapts and prepares the matter as becomes Nature, for such work, and such work provides also, with premeditated Wisdom, a suitable vessel" [in the translation I found online]) you wrote: "This doesn't seem very heroic to me, more of a silent work performed in solitude."  But here I do disagree with you.  This is precisely what I mean by "heroic" in the valuating sense.  And again, I give as an example of how truly difficult and "heroic" this kind of tending is, the role of the analyst in the analytic session.  The kind of containment and steady heat that the good analyst supplies as well as the constant and diligent vessel-tending is not just something that anyone can do (and many analysts struggle to do this well).  There is a reason that analysts train hard for many years to receive their certifications.  And even certified analysts struggle mightily with the inner conflict between a valuative love for the patient being treated and a dogmatic adherence to the methodology and modes of diagnosis learned in analytical training.  Dogma wins more than love, because it takes a (valuating) heroic attitude to be able to put aside theoretical dogmas and react directly to the patient's "soul" . . . a relationship that takes place in an imperfect and volatile space, an experimental space of trial and error, sacrifice and repentance.  Such a space (whether in analysis or in alchemical symbolism) is not regulated and directed but contained.

The space of theory, on the other hand, is clean and perfect.  Theory always "understands" and forcefully orders everything.  But in practice, something far beyond book learning is required.  The Art of psychotherapy like the Art of alchemy requires both knowledge and creative spontaneity.  That's why no two analyses and no two alchemical texts are alike, no two processes or "recipes" are ever the same.  Each alchemist and each analyst (and individuant) must recreate the opus anew.


The form of hero archetype that Jung is more concerned with and Jungians have focused more directly on is what I would call the "conquering hero".  This hero is always male, and he is found in epics and myths that are meant to describe the ego ideals and identity constructions of a civilization (specifically a patriarchal civilization).  This is also the hero of tragedy, because the conquering hero is inevitably undone by his fatal flaw.  The fairytale hero lives "happily ever after" in union with his or her partner (animi), but the tragic/epic/conquering hero is finally defeated (usually by a lowly shadow figure or else by the hero's own hubris or recklessness).  Many of the solar heroes are tragic/conquering heroes.  Their lives consist of a rise and a fall.  They might endure a kind of night-sea journey, but they cannot consistently do so.  Contrast this with the shaman whose role is to continuously descend and return in order to commune with the dead/ancestors/gods/lost souls.  The shaman may have to use trickery or bartering/sacrifice to procure either favors from the dead or to retrieve the lost soul of a tribe mate.  But the shaman never conquers the dead, never assaults them.  The shaman is no Heracles bursting into Hades and subduing Cerberus.

That kind of willful conquering hero is, I would argue, a patriarchal egoic fantasy, a compensation for a feeling of impotence.


One should not work to dissolve the ego. Had it been possible, I would not recommend it. The ego can only be reduced according to asceticism, the practice of self-denial and renunciation of worldly pleasure. It may require withdrawal from the material world to a life of meditation, as in the practice of Yoga.

I agree that attempts to dissolve the ego by force of will are ineffective and tend to result in pathology.  True ego-dissolution is thrust upon us most of the time, typically when some event or accumulation of events swells up and topples the (usually fairly frail and poorly constructed) ego we have been trying to live by. [In tribal cultures, initiation rituals conducted by the tribal elders are an important contradiction to this paradigm; although, of course, the initiates who are traumatized and ritually wounded in these initiations do not choose and are conventionally overwhelmed and terrified by the Otherness of their initiators.]  There is a natural movement toward ego-dissolution in the psyche ("nature decocts and putrefies"), I think, that especially begins to emerge during adolescence.  This may be triggered by chemical/biological changes in the brain and body.  But it is also facilitated by the increasing problem presented the growing adolescent of his or her infantile ego construction.  The infantile or pre-adolescent ego is constructed as a strategic adaptation to an environment in which the parents provide for and protect the child.  The parents are the primary vessel of containment, even if that vessel is poorly tended and dysfunctional.  Ideally (and probably unconsciously), an image of the Self-as-Parent develops, but the relationship of the ego with that figuration of the Self is no longer fully functional come adolescence.  A new relationship with the Self must be developed.  Instead of parent, the Self must become partner.  And building a vessel of containment for the ego should really become the individual's own creative project (although, for various reasons, in modern culture, this often gets postponed until later in life and may never fully occur at all).

But I see the dissolution and dismemberment symbolism in alchemy as parallel (and likely a direct descendant) of the same symbolism in shamanic initiation.  The alteration of the "body" in shamanic initiation from a normal/"base"/human body to a spiritual/magical body (often by the symbolic introduction of iron, which was once more precious than gold and was found only "fallen from the heavens" in meteorites) also serves as a parallel with/precedent for alchemy.  The alchemists recognized and sought to facilitate the dissolution/dismemberment (even if "Nature" drove the process).

In shamanic initiation, the initiate is often called by sickness ("initiation illness") and dissolution/dismemberment dreams.  Where that is recognized by the tribe, the initiate would also be ceremonially trained by the tribe's elder shamans.  Initiation illness (like any illness) involves a dissolution of the ego.  And all other mysticisms from the ancient Egyptian to the Elusinean Mysteries to original Christian baptism (of adult initiates) depict and require some kind of ego dissolution.  Alchemy carries this dissolution symbolism into chemical/metallurgic metaphors.

Alchemy and all other mysticisms act as containers for natural ego-dissolution processes.  The alchemical symbol of the vessel makes this especially clear.  If the dissolution process can be properly contained and adequately focused on (the steady, mild heat the artifex is to diligently maintain), destruction can be transformed into a new and improved creation.

Intentional dissolutions of the ego with the hope of tempting transcendent transformations are tricky.  Yoga and various forms of meditation attempt this "lowering of mental threshold", but there is more to an alchemical or mystical work than "ego-reduction".  I doubt any mystical work of transformation can occur without genuine initiation and more radical dissolution.  And we can't willingly destroy ourselves to this degree.  Something Other and greater must dissolve the initiate's ego.  To "conquer oneself" is Demonic and only serves to delusionally repress the shadow.  There is an important difference between initiation and "self-mastery".  Initiation destroys or greatly depotentiates that part of oneself that seeks and can achieve "self-mastery".

No one can know how to "dissolve" until one is dissolved.  We have no innate knowledge of how ego is constructed and play no real conscious role in its construction.  It seems to us a true and solid thing until it is dismembered.  And once it is, we are given the chance to observe and analyze it, to learn what arbitrary stuff we are made of and how carelessly and pointlessly we were composed.  The successful initiate acquires this experiential knowledge by refusing to enlist the Demon to cram the crumbling ego back together.  Instead, a different principle of ego organization is sought.  Dynamic "Nature" (the Self) seems to have been responsible for destroying the fragile ego that socialization built . . . so perhaps it "knows" something.  Nature is always building and destroying, and so long as one gives up the fantasy of a static, permanent, and willfully determined selfhood, the ego-dissolved individual can attempt to harness ego construction to this natural rhythm.

The principle of ego-organization, then, is located outside the egoic.  It is Other.  One consents to be self-organized by that which influences or happens to one.  That is a major part of taoism (another mystical and alchemical tradition) and the wei wu wei (doing without doing) principle it advocates.  Nature and "fate" (unfolding time and action/occurence) combine to assemble and constantly revise identity.  The mystically initiated individual may, after processing the event of initiation, be able to dissolve and recompose the ego somewhat and with intention (albeit not direction).  That is the shaman's craft, for instance.  But the object of this reiteration of the initiation event in miniature is not to achieve transcendence or self-betterment or attain spiritual power or glory.  Dissolution is utilized to join with and valuate otherness.  This was always its deeper meaning.  What is soft and pliable or fluid can remain itself while conforming the the shape of what it touches.  That fluidity (like Luna/Quicksilver/anima) can become a vessel or womb for otherness, helping to contain and gestate it.  In other words, such fluidity allows one to find greater meaning and potential in otherness.  It does not necessarily "enable" otherness to be "itself" free from any difference or influence, but like the alchemical Work, it puts a steady low heat beneath the other while also offering a sturdy vessel to hold and acknowledge any volatility (that is bound to come from any true "moment of meeting").

And this alchemical containment is no spiritual feat of an ascetic swami or some "ascended master".  Rather, it is merely valuation and facilitation.  It's love.  And there is no self-denial to this love.  There is a profound presence of selfhood to it.  It penetrates and is penetrated, and the relational mode of that selfhood is not Demonic or self-protective.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2011, 10:29:15 AM »

Jung cannot substantiate the heroic interpretation of alchemy, as the rescue operation nowhere take place. To hasten the King's demise is the proper thing to do. This will eventually "rescue" him. Jung interprets alchemy according to the notion of "confrontation with the unconscious", but the dying and resurrecting King is not the ego. It is the self.

I think psychologizing the Old (or the New) King of alchemy is difficult.  It doesn't map perfectly to either Self or ego, yet touches on both.  Maybe the Old King is a construction of the old ego as well as its relationship to the old figuration of Self.  I don't think the Self really changes substantially.  Yes, it is complex, dynamic, and living . . . and so it is always changed.  But it is the Self because it is always what it is no matter how it changes.  Nature is always Nature no matter how it changes, even as it dies and is "reborn", it is Nature.  Nature is that which is always dying and being reborn, always reorganizing.  It think the Self appears to change depending on what it relates to (or what and how the ego relates to it).  So, really it is the ego's perception and relationship to the Self that changes.  I would even say (and have said) that the egoic thing that changes is the languaging of the Self.  Ego is constructed by language.  At first it is languaged to us, and eventually (and to varying degrees by individual) this languaging proves to be inadequate to express the Self/Other that we also are.  A new language is needed in which to be and become, a personal, "mythic" and living language.  In my own theoretical vocabulary, I call that "Logos".  Alchemy is a Logos or a Logos tradition, but an individual developing a Logos must personalize it, must co-create it along with the Self (Nature).  The Art (as in the alchemical Work) is a personal languaging endeavor . . . and I think alchemy's best symbol for this is the filius philosophorum, Son of the Philosophers.  We co-create Logos like birthing and raising a child.

There is also a sense in which the Work redeems "God" or the Self.  But I think Jung was very much aware of that and in fact used this as a cornerstone in his own psycho-theological fantasies.  Where the ego is transformed, the Self is redeemed and rejuvenated . . . because ego is the medium between Self and environment.  Ego can be a disease that strangulates the Self (more precisely, the Demon-possessed or -oppressed ego can be a disease).  The Old King of alchemy is characterized by his sickness and by his capacity to "pollute" and "poison".  The foul sulfurous odor is often referenced in alchemical texts and associated with the Old King's poisonousness or disease.

According to Wikipedia, sulfur was being extracted from pyrite (fool's gold) from the 3rd century by the Chinese . . . and when sulfur is heated enough, it melts into a blood red liquid (a la the famous "Red Tincture" of alchemy).  It all makes an interesting allegory for the Old King who has "within it" a New King or non-intuitive inner form (yellow solid that melts into red liquid).



molten sulfur above; burning sulfur below.

My personal experience (as an artist and writer who had a long devotional period of writing about Old King figures and aspects) is that we might do work which seems to be directed at transforming an Old King (as a version of the Self), but this work indirectly functions to reconstruct the ego as a languaged object that relates to the Self.  My book of poems What the Road Can Afford goes about dismembering, cooking, and dissolving divine and quasi-divine Old King figures with an "alchemical heat".  I saw theses Old Kings as related to the vision of the writer/artist that I was struggling not to be: a kind of Old Testament Creator-God.  I recognized that this creation power was illusory and "poisonous" and that I was infected with it.  So I went about "alchemically punishing" this aspect of the God and myself.  I poured acid all over it and turned on the heat, but made sure to contain this all in the vessel of the poems (and the book as a whole).

Through the process of writing this book (over about seven years), I gradually became a knowing co-creator who could step aside from my "creative power" and its delusional poisons and facilitate something Other . . . the Self, that is.  But I never really imagined that I was changing God or the Self.  This was always metaphorical.  I think I was trying to figure out how to contain, facilitate, or "alchemically perfect" the Self/Nature with my Art . . . not to create something perfect and golden or to be able to sip an Elixir that cured my suffering.  But to find a way to love and commune with this Other (that is also "me") . . . and not just that Self-as-Other, but also others in general.  The work of art was a process of developing a functional and valuating relationality.

The alchemical aspects of my poems were largely unknown to me while I wrote them.  I had had some contact with alchemy through Jung, and it "inspired me" in many ways, but I had no conscious understanding of the alchemical process and therefore no ability to insert it into my poems as some kind of device or reference.  It's really quite astonishing (to me, at least) how deeply alchemical my book ended up being.  All Nature . . . where Art provided merely heat and containment.


The problem is that we get a warped view of the spiritual path. The way of the cloistered complentative is no alternative to most people. Instead the "alchemical" spiritual way can provide an answer. But if it becomes psychologized and misinterpreted it obviously has very damaging consequences. This issue is not merely a dispute over the misinterpretation of alchemy, it concerns the immensely important issue of how to find our way on the spiritual path.

I would agree that alchemy presents a very useful (and still very relevant) metaphor for leading the "symbolic life".  But it also presents (at least) two major complications.  First, it is so densely symbolic and convoluted that one has to have that kind of mad hermetical obsession to be able to sort it out (a sorting out that requires a good deal of projection and reverie, as well).  There is not enough consistency in different renderings of the alchemical opus for most people to find a solid ground for interpretation in alchemy.  This alone creates many intellectual (and spiritual) dangers.  For instance, although I am very grateful to Adam McLean for his important online contributions to alchemy studies, sometimes his approach is too dogmatic for me.  He criticizes Jung's interpretations of alchemy, and he does so on many valid grounds.  But ultimately he faults Jung for psychologizing, and this I have to take issue with.  Here, I think Jung understood what the alchemists were up to better than McLean or someone taking a more "scholarly" (or equally, a more "spiritual") approach.

What I mean is that there is no absolutely consistent tradition in alchemy that a "great scholar" can suss out, extract and lay before a reader's feet.  There are many, many variations in alchemical thought, many different ways of saying the same things . . . and the alchemical writers made no real attempt to "get together" and make sure they were consistent or "on message".  Jung does stray from some of the most traditional elements of the opus (e.g., conflating prima materia with pre-Work [and practically pre-ego] chaos, Nigredo with depression and "unconsciousness", and Coniunctio with transcendent hieros gamos).  And this straying works to the detriment of Jung's psychologization.  Here, he should have listened more willingly to the alchemists instead of leaping at what he thought were modern, psychological parallels.

But in trying to psychologize alchemy, Jung was also staying true to the spirit of alchemy, which essentially holds that there is no real "alchemical scholarship".  That is, alchemy can only be understood experimentally and creatively.  It is an Art, not an artifact.  One must live the Work in order to study it . . . and no two people will live this Work in precisely the same way.  One may learn a bit from one previous alchemist and another bit from another alchemist, but this cannot merely be taken as is and reused (where texts like Splendor Solis and Rosarium Philosophorum collect classical alchemical quotations together, these collections read more like inspirational mantras or koans than coherent philosophical arguments).  Every opus is original.  Only the general structural dynamics are consistent (i.e., not the order of stages or processes but the most general structures like solve et coagula and the Black, White, Red sequence).  That the derivation of the Philosopher's Stone tends to read like a recipe (if only a very muddled one) is a deceptive temptation, a wish that cannot be fulfilled.  To imagine that the opus is a recipe and not a labor is to go chasing madly after eternally elusive gold and thinking the material wealth of fantasy is the real valuation that awaits the successful "adept".

I contend that Jung practiced alchemy (in his alchemical writings).  He was not a scholar of alchemy, but an alchemical experimentalist, an artifex . . . because he was a psychologizer.  All alchemists were psychologizers (and neither scholars, per se, or spiritualists).  This is something McLean doesn't seem to recognize or give Jung credit for.  Although Jung at times over-asserted the "unconsciousness" of the alchemists, I think he was largely right about the projection of archetypal psychodynamics into the chemicals and metals.  One can project like this without being truly unconscious, though.  Projection can be a devotional or spiritual act (i.e. a "reverie").  And when Jung wrote his alchemical books later in his life, he was also swept up in reverie or in a kind of mystical participation with his subject matter.  For this reason, Jung's alchemical writings should not be read as "alchemy scholarship".  They are, in fact, alchemy experiments . . . opera.

Regrettably (especially for Jungians), Jung's alchemical opera represent devoted but ultimately (although not utterly) failed experiments.  They do not generate functional Philosopher's Stones.  But since alchemy (like science) benefits from failed experiments, this is not really a flaw.  The problem is that Jungians want to see these works of Jung as Philosopher's Stones, and this makes for bad faith.  Jungians become pseudo-alchemists, frauds, charlatans, or "charcoal burners" who deal in fool's gold.  Many Jungian problems derive from not taking Jung and his thought scientifically.  He is taken religiously, and so must be either right or wrong, a true or false prophet.  If he were taken scientifically, we could actually learn from his experimental "failures".  These failures would enrich us and allow analytical psychology to keep progressing.  But instead, Jungians have typically chosen to blindly defend Jung's experimental ideas as "true prophecy" . . . which is one of the reasons that analytical psychology has been deteriorating and moving toward assimilation into psychoanalysis (where Jung is a "false prophet") on one hand and New Agism (where you can be a "true prophet") on the other.

I do not object to the psychologization of alchemy.  In fact, I feel this is the only honest and non-delusional way to pursue an alchemical project today.  We cannot find the Stone in old alchemical texts; we must make our own Stone.  So only a modern language will suffice.  The archetypal "gods" and structures (i.e., Nature) still live in psyche, even as they can no longer be found in chemicals.  Equally, although these "divine" principles and intelligences do not really exist in matter (as we now understand matter), principles of complex, dynamic organization still do.  The time for the alchemical imagination is still ripe, perhaps riper than it was since before the Enlightenment and the rise of sciences like modern chemistry as a form of materialistic rationalism.


But the second major complication for the modern use of alchemy is a matter of something we are not really all that ready to deal with, I think.  The scientific study of nature now allows us to imagine and language complexity (which is the root to a valuation of matter akin to that in the alchemical project).  But our human spiritualities are still quite archaic.  I don't think we have yet found a truly modern form of spirituality.  Jung's psychology points in a viable direction, but ultimately comes up short, especially in Jungianism (post-Jung) where Jung's ground-breaking spiritual psychologization has regressed to more conventional spiritualism and supernaturalism.

One of the causes (although I don't find it a suitable "excuse") of this spiritualistic regression in Jungianism is no doubt Jung's own regression late in life (especially after his heart attack) to a more conventionally spiritual position.  It wasn't an absolute regression, but it was a slip backward into less-modern and more romantic thinking.  Jung no doubt felt he deserved this comfort and had earned it after years of psychological devotion to the spiritual.  Regrettably, it jackets the unique spiritual-scientific amalgam of Jungian thought into a more run of the mill occult spiritualism.  As a psychologizer, Jung was truly modern and pioneering.  As a spiritualist, he was merely a romantic, an anti-modernist.  I think the quasi-scientific psychologizing trend in Jung's thought was his most profound contribution.  But Jungianism has fallen away from Jung's more truly alchemical experimentalism and phenomenology in favor of more dogmatic and spiritualistic beliefs.

But this is what most Jungians today prefer (where "one's bliss" is followed instead of truth, belief eclipses knowledge).  Jungianism after Jung has failed to be truly experimental and (as Jung recommended) experiential.  In today's Jungianism "experience" is confused with belief and the "active imagination" that swirls around that belief.  Believing is not doing . . . and this is another way in which the meanings of alchemy are lost on modern Jungians.  Alchemy is not a religion, though.  It is not meant to be believed in.  It's a creative, experimental endeavor.  It is not a truth to uncover but a mode of doing.  Alchemy is similar to storytelling in the oral tradition.  Each new teller reconstructs the stories they hear and inherit, revising them both on the basis of what they like most and also by what their audiences like the most.  Alchemy shows the same kind of variations that folktales show.  The written texts preserved are like specific renderings of the alchemical tale, but the "tradition" of alchemy is not really in these written texts.  The tradition of alchemy is unwritten and dynamic (or at least it was while alchemy was still being orally and physically passed along).

What I mean to get at with this second major complication in the modernization of alchemy is that alchemy is not really "spiritual" as we typically understand that term.  Yes, alchemy is a mysticism, and mysticism is the archetype that also underlies spirituality.  But alchemy is decidedly anti-spiritual.  It's emphasis is on Nature or Matter, and its approach is proto-scientific and experimental (rather than faith-based and dogmatic).  Spiritualities tend to be passed on as dogmas.  They give specific disciplines to follow and ideas to believe in.  As you yourself note, alchemy doesn't demand the ascetic, spiritualistic attitude from its practitioners.  Nature conducts the Work, and the artifex contains and facilitates Nature.  We are accustomed to spiritualities that egoically oppose Nature (as instinct or body) and seek to transcend it.  Alchemy seeks to valuate the very thing other spiritualities try to transcend.

So, with no gods, no dogmas, and a generally devaluing and dissolving attitude toward the super-egoic will, alchemy becomes a very enigmatic and unusual "spirituality".  I think that in order for a modern individual to live a spirituality that is genuinely alchemical, a very scientific attitude toward spirituality is required.  Alchemy, despite its arcane symbols, is compatible with rationalism and materialism (so long as it is psychologized rather than literalized).  It asks the artifex to observe with scientific rigor what is going on "inside the vessel".  The alchemical "spiritualist" has the mindset of a lab technician more so than an ascetic or someone bent on disciplined self-betterment.  Even "finding God" or deriving some sort of healing Elixir is not really the true goal of alchemy.  That's only the superficial goal, and a deceptive one at that.  The true goal is valuation, and what is valuated is not the I, but something Other that has been and tends to become de-valued.  The Stone is found in the dung heap.

In conventional spirituality, God or the object of praise and worship is the thing with the ultimate value, and this value is taken for granted.  God is considered to be self-valuating, and the believer is supposed to bask in this, receive grace and warmth from it.  S/he never has to be responsible for valuating, though.  At the same time, it is equally taken for granted that what is devalued is not God, not sacred. worth ignoring.  In alchemy, it's radically different.  God has fallen or is sick, and not belief but Art or Work valuates and redeems God (as Nature or by connecting God/spirit to Nature).  In fact, the "redemption of the Other" is no one time shot in alchemy.  Alchemical valuation is to be constantly practiced.  The individual becomes responsible for the maintenance of valuation.  Alchemy essentially acknowledges that the human relationship with the divine is one governed by a kind of valuative entropy, where God (or the relationship with God) is that which is constantly falling out of valuation or into darkness and chaos and distant Otherness.  Humanity is charged with keeping God in the world, with the sanctification of matter and life.

We see a similar attitude in some tribal cultures, especially Native American ones.  The sanctity of the world is dependent on the valuation given it by the tribe.  Without that valuation, the sun doesn't rise.  Death and chaos consume everything.  In fact, in tribal cultures that employ shamans, these shamans are specifically responsible for maintaining and facilitating the valuative connection between the individual members and the "sacred world".  Shamans were necessary, because individuals continuously fell out of union with the sacred world.  Their souls got sick or lost.  Souls (as the connection between the human and the Natural/Divine) are always slipping away.  They are mercurial things.

Alchemy is a post-tribal method of shamanic "soul retrieval".  Like shamanism, alchemy restores soul (to Nature) by storying its retrieval.  Shamanic trance rituals are highly dependent on the singing or storytelling of the shaman, who utilizes archetypal heroic (i.e., valuative) motifs to depict the rescue and return of the soul.  The alchemical opus is a kind of shamanic story.  By restoring the individual's lost soul, the shaman brings divine life back into the tribe.  More psychologically, the shaman helps the tribe remain a functional symbol of the Self and its organizing principle.  Individuals who suffer "soul loss" are like the devalued pieces of the Self system that must be restored to dynamic health so that the whole system can functional properly.

The alchemical opus depicts the same shamanic process in chemical metaphors.  Divine Nature is treated and healed.  "The Philosopher’s Stone is produced by means of the Greening and Growing Nature" (Splendor Solis).  The Art kills and restores Nature.
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Matswin

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2011, 11:50:02 AM »
Matt, alchemical texts are very much in the trinitarian spiritual tradition. Jean Albert Belin says: "For the reasons above alleged one has need in the practice of the assistance of the most high: but heaven gives no help to the man who is its enemy: one must have a pure and holy heart, divested from the desires of the world, and vowed entirely to God."  (The Adventures of an Unknown Philosopher)

In order to be able to find the arcanum, one must have a clean heart, much like the ideal of the Christian mystics. A life that involves suffering and loneliness is clearly favourable to the goal. An extraverted life is out of the question. This implies a sacrifice of the wishes of the ego. So it is an ego-sacrifice in a sense, but not ego-dissolution.

I think the notion of differentiating the hero archetype along your lines is a good idea. But can the hero at all be viewed as as a model of the ego, and his journey a model of the individuation process? M-L von Franz says in 'The Interpretation of Fairy Tales' that "In many so-called Jungian attempts at interpretation, one can see a regression to a very personalistic approach. The interpreters judge the hero or heroine to be a normal human ego and his misfortunes to be an image of his neurosis." (p.viii) She explains that the heroes really are abstractions. Their fates are expressions of the difficulties and dangers given to us by nature.

When the ego archetype is finally integrated with consciousness, it actually implies its death (what I discuss in The Real Meaning of the Motif of the Dying God). This is how archetypes experience it when they pass over to the "other side". So, no matter what type of hero, death is its fate. Hence it cannot work as a model of the ego as we certainly don't want to go that far in our identification. This means that the hero identification must be overcome at some stage. Identification can fulfil a function, but not with the adult person who is a spiritual seeker.

So is the shamanic initiation, and the shamanic journey to the Otherworld and back, examples of the ego's journey in individuation? My argument is that it is not. The shaman does not represent the ego, but he represents an archetype. He becomes a god when he goes into trance. Likewise, primitive people in the Amazon, and elsewhere, portray the different totem archetypes to whom they belong. They dress themselves in attires that represent the god. The Australian aborigines all belong to the totem of some forefather spirit, which is a form of creator god. These are gods, and sometimes, during festivities, they imitate this god, but then they return to their normal ego. They allow themselves to be affected by the archetype, but they don't go farther than that. This is an ideal relation with the self, I suppose, to invigorate the self during festivities.

I think that the shaman's journey is predicated on the totemistic rituals of the primitives, and it serves to invigorate the relation with the self, by the impersonation of the self. I don't know if Joseph Henderson (Thresholds of Initiation), and Joseph Campbell, view this as a blueprint for the ego's journey in the individuation process. If they do, then they, to a degree, commit the error that von Franz points out, above. But I can't say that I have analysed Henderson and Campbell, thoroughly.

Mats Winther

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #21 on: April 07, 2011, 11:26:47 AM »
Matt, alchemical texts are very much in the trinitarian spiritual tradition. Jean Albert Belin says: "For the reasons above alleged one has need in the practice of the assistance of the most high: but heaven gives no help to the man who is its enemy: one must have a pure and holy heart, divested from the desires of the world, and vowed entirely to God."  (The Adventures of an Unknown Philosopher)

Mats, I don't disagree . . . but all life at the time wherever Christendom extended was "trinitarian" (at least on the surface).  Christianity was the canvas on which all thought was painted.  At a more subtle level, though, the alchemical devotion to Nature ran against the Platonic/Neoplatonic trend of Christian thought.  Not as an intended opposition or apostasy, but as a contrary sense of valuation.  The incorporation of Christian motifs and symbols in alchemical emblems and texts may have required a bit of "convolution", but there is no overt sign I am aware of that alchemists challenged or even questioned conventional Christian mythology/theology.

Also, I think every work undertaken with devotion and integrity tends to breed a slightly ascetic or hermetic attitude.  Alchemy, like both spirituality and science, requires a kind of introversion, a valuation of inner or microscopic work.  Still, I mean to differentiate the "hermetic" attitude from the truly ascetic.  The former may very well be spiritual, but it is focused on an object or other that it means to study, know, or reconstruct.  Ego in this hermetic attitude is not the primary focus, but may end up being indirectly depotentiated because the hermetic focus is so distinctly on the object/other.

With the ascetic attitude, ego (or an enshadowed ego symbol) is a main focus and is seen as objectionable and dangerous or illusory.  Commonly, the ascetic directs some form of abuse at the body (as ego-surrogate or -symbol).  The idea is that if the body can be starved, beaten, neglected, etc., it can be overcome.  This generally meant that "instinct" (in the more archaic appetitive sense) could be overcome.  This instinct was imagined as a parasite or possessing demon, an other and intruder in the supposedly "pure" and holy human spirit/mind.  The ascetic seeks to conquer this other and thereby exalt spirit.

I would argue that this spirit-centric orientation is ultimately impossible and even pathological . . . as the history of Christian mysticism would seem to especially illuminate (e.g., anything from self-flagellation to pillar sitting to the construction of Inquisitional torture devices and the Malleus Maleficarum).  That is, whether one is starving oneself, whipping oneself or promoting or performing the starving and whipping of others in the name of a spiritual cause, hostility against the other (which the body often qualifies as, especially where Platonic heritage remains) drives the ideology.  Underlying asceticism is the idea that the shadow can be conquered and removed.  But this is a delusion, and what radical asceticism accomplishes is merely the dissociation of the shadow, which then appears "outside" and as a tempting or assaulting, often demonic, other.  The ascetic defines him or herself by engaging in holy war with this demonic other, spending an entire life barely beating it back (or continuously failing to).

I don't think that is the attitude behind alchemy at all.  But, as I tend to see (along with Eliade) alchemy and shamanism deriving from a shared root, it must be acknowledged that shamanic initiation typically involved a period of extreme asceticism, self-denial, and self-torture.  Yet, I would argue that the purpose of this ascetic initiation period was not the same as that in many Christian mysticisms (where the eternal . . . and unwinnable . . . "battle with the devil" was the purpose and obsession of an entire life).  In ascetic Christian mysticisms of the Dark Age and medieval period, the body/devil/instinct/appetites were a continuous threat that had to be "heroically" fended off and fortified against.  The spirit-ego was the ruthless defender of the person against itself (in dissociated form).  But in shamanic initiation, the ascetic period (a kind of 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness), was an ego-dissolving finite episode where the old "ego" was dismembered and a new source of selfhood and purpose was discovered.  The shamanic initiate passes through the threshold of initiation merely by surviving . . . not by conquering.  What survives these intense and terrible initiations is the eternal thing, the new center of selfhood (the Self).

From my more psychological and modern perspective, I would see the radical ascetic as a Demonically-possessed "egotist" hell-bent on eradicating "Otherness" from the personality.  The initiate (who may also be hermetic) is a non-egotist.  That is, the ego is not the center of his or her personality, and Otherness is not Demonically defended against, but communed with.  Only the Demon (or the Demon-possessed ego) is afraid of and in conflict with Otherness.


In order to be able to find the arcanum, one must have a clean heart, much like the ideal of the Christian mystics. A life that involves suffering and loneliness is clearly favourable to the goal. An extraverted life is out of the question. This implies a sacrifice of the wishes of the ego. So it is an ego-sacrifice in a sense, but not ego-dissolution.

I think the life of suffering and loneliness is not so much chosen as accepted or tolerated (as the lesser of evils).  There is no need to deprive oneself.  If one seeks to valuate the devalued Other or to question one's tribal affiliations, loneliness and suffering are inevitable social "punishments".

As far as ego-sacrifice vs. ego-dissolution vs. ego-reduction, etc., I think our disagreements are largely semantic.  There is something about the way you personally define ego-dissolution that doesn't sit well with you . . . but I'm not sure the term has the same connotations for me.  At the same time, asceticism obviously doesn't have a very positive connotation for me, whereas ego-dissolution is not associated with any negative judgments.  The reason I like the term dissolution is that it has a specific history in alchemy.  In shamanism, dismemberment is essentially the same thing, although the connotation is a bit bloodier and more destructive (to my mind).  One can be dissolved somewhat or even substantially and still survive, still be what one is.  But that which is dismembered is killed.  Therefore, in my opinion, dismemberment is a much more figurative and symbolic term than dissolution (which still has validity as a modern psychological term).

Considering your background in alchemy, I assume that you do not object to dissolution as a psychic process, but you feel that what is dissolved in alchemy is simply not representative of the ego . . . that the dissolved body/matter is better understood as the Self.  The reason I do not see it/psychologize it this way is that the thing I define as the Self is not really soluble.  It is a principle of psychic organization akin to the self-organization of complex dynamic systems.  A principle of organization can't be dissolved or broken down and reformulated . . . only a specific state of organization can be dissolved.  The Self principle of organization is dynamic and is constantly moving to break down non-adaptive states of organization (or dysfunctional aspects of these states).  I see the parallel in the Nature of the alchemists.  The Art seeks not to reorganize or replace the ways of Nature, but to facilitate or "perfect" the Natural dynamic of organization.  It isn't the construction of a new order out of natural stuff, but a redemption of Nature by freeing Nature's native dynamic or principle of organization from that which bogged it down.


I think the notion of differentiating the hero archetype along your lines is a good idea. But can the hero at all be viewed as as a model of the ego, and his journey a model of the individuation process? M-L von Franz says in 'The Interpretation of Fairy Tales' that "In many so-called Jungian attempts at interpretation, one can see a regression to a very personalistic approach. The interpreters judge the hero or heroine to be a normal human ego and his misfortunes to be an image of his neurosis." (p.viii) She explains that the heroes really are abstractions. Their fates are expressions of the difficulties and dangers given to us by nature.

I like that von Franz makes this differentiation.  It demonstrates an awareness of the hero archetype that is often lacking, especially in "post-Jungian" thought.  I also like that von Franz felt fairytales were more purely "archetypal" than myths and epics . . . and I believe she remains one of the very few Jungians who clearly voiced this opinion (with which I agree).  But at the same time, von Franz's jab at "so-called Jungian attempts at interpretation [that are a] regression to a personalistic approach" needs to be properly contextualized.  This comment is directed at the London/developmental school of Jungianism that Michael Fordham was the ideological progenitor of.  I don't think she meant to utterly dissociate the hero from all that is egoic.  She was engaged in a bitter war with "apostate" Jungians who were being drawn back into psychoanalytic thinking (especially the ideas of Klein, Bion, and Winnicott).  She not only criticized the London Jungians but also the Zurich Jungians who were somewhat sympathetic to the London Jungians.  I understand and sympathize with her concern that psychoanalytic concepts of ego and small-s self do not fully comprehend Jung's more archetypal "depth" perspective.

In psychoanalysis and more psychoanalytic Jungianism, the hero is pathologized and interpreted from an "infantocentric" perspective.  Although this could be seen as a continuation of classical Jungian negativity toward the hero, it also devalues the archetypal structures and dynamics behind individuation, mysticism, and spiritual experience (as if they were nothing but remnants of some kind of neurotic Oedipal conflict) . . . and those are things von Franz believed in and valued.  But we should keep in mind that the way the ego is understood in classical Jungianism is quite different than the way it is understood in psychoanalysis (in classical Jungianism, the ego is the center of consciousness, while in psychoanalysis the ego is a kind of overwhelmed hostage trapped in a battle between the id and the superego).  I agree with von Franz that it is essential in the interpretation of fairytales to understand that the heroes of the stories are not representative of some kind of neurotic "adult infant".  And even if von Franz was a bit of a Jungian fundamentalist (or perhaps the most fundamentalist of any Jungian), I think she had every right to be outraged by the assimilation of some Jungian thought into psychoanalysis, which Jung had adamantly differentiated his thinking from.  That assimilation can legitimately be seen as a regression.  And although I have tried to investigate this very subject, I have yet to find any clear analyses by Jungians of this odd, seemingly regressive move.  That is, the shift is acknowledged, but not analyzed or seen in a psychological manner . . . which I find inadequate and suspicious.

But the relationship of the ego with the hero is, in my opinion, more complex than von Franz suggests (or was perhaps aware of).  Even the classical Jungian position doesn't comprehend this relationship adequately, nor does it manage to disentangle its vision of the hero from its own psychological baggage (i.e., the inheritance of Jung's "conquering hero complex").

In my own thinking, the hero is not a model for the ego, per se.  But the hero is a mode or attitude that can be brought into consciousness and that naturally gravitates toward consciousness.  The ego, though, can never become the hero, nor would any such attempt be psychologically functional.  In many fairytales the hero is clearly differentiable from the ego characters.  The most common construction of this is where there are three brothers or three sisters, and the youngest one is the "special" one, the hero.  The other siblings represent more conventional (defensively self-interested) ego attitude.  But it is a fascinating feature of many dreams (usually those of individuals who are progressively engaged in an individuation event) that the dream ego can at times be very close to the hero archetype.  So there is a strong set of data that suggests an ego/hero parallel.

But in the waking ego, the heroic (when active at all) is merely one of many attitudes or "splinter psyches".  It is not a personality unto itself and cannot (I would argue) become a predominate or ruling attitude in the ego.  There is something innately "anti-egoic" about the hero, despite its ego-compatibility.  I think this is because the ego is meant to operate as a medium between Self and environment (where our environment is largely cultural).  The ego cannot afford to be strictly heroic (in the valuative sense I have been advocating), because it must also enable the lasting survival of the Self, much of which depends on the survival and functionality of the ego.  Sometimes restraint and defense is needed, because some others and otherness are hostile and dangerous.  The heroic attitude is very fluid and not terribly self-concerned.  It would do what is "right" (especially by the other) even at the expense of its own well-being . . . and often enough, that is not a worthwhile trade-off.  Therefore the ego has to step in and say, "No, I can't be heroic today."  Of course, more commonly, we are telling ourselves that valuative heroism is impossible when in fact it is entirely possible, but merely difficult and involving some kind of sacrifice.

We also live in a culture in which the hero is placed on a pedestal, perhaps as a superhero from a work of fantasy or a "Christ".  The Christian imagination especially (and historically) has robbed humanity of its right to heroism (by making the hero a god or Christ).  But people exercise the heroic attitude and do heroic things all the time.  We often miss this, though, because we have been told that heroism is grand and rare or even miraculous.

This fantastic aggrandizement of the hero also derives from the conflation of the conquering hero with the valuative hero in the myths and epics of patriarchal culture.  We are socialized to imagine that the hero is (or deserves to be) "high status" and powerful, accomplishing great things by might, wit, and almost supernatural skill.  We never imagine that heroism is often socially invisible, subtle, and even fairly unconscious.  Only grand "heroism" makes the media.
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Matswin

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2011, 07:22:58 AM »
Matt, I don't think there is any implication behind the use of Self with capital S, is it? Jung himself uses 'self' with small s.

My "complementarian self" notion implies that the self as an abstract "principle of organization" isn't good enough. It must be complemented with a notion of the self as a living entity. If that's the case then alchemical transformations can, after all, take place in the self. Life is malleable and "biological", always growing and changing. The living self is the complement of the Platonic notion of the self as a ready-made Form, what I term the trinitarian self. Thus, the hero, as an image of the self, is an abstraction, but also an autonomous person, a divinity, as it were. 

Concerning your earlier message, about the regression in Jung to a more pagan standpoint. It is probably this which gave rise to Hillman's unrestrained form of paganism (see my Critique of Archetypal Psychology). I believe your critical observations are correct. Perhaps the regression had to do with the fact that Jung's heroic confrontation with the unconscious proved untenable. Jungian followers did not see this happening, i.e., the encounter with anima, the wise old man, etc., followed by the dissolution and transformation of the ego.

A regress seemed to have occurred, and the spirit flowed back into the world, at a point when Jungians should have gone further, to definitively withdraw the spirit from matter. I suppose, it is at this point that Jung begins to think in terms of the World Soul, and when he becomes conscious of an identity with the pagan saviour, Merlin. Maybe many a Jungian felt uncomfortable with this development and turned to slightly more psychoanalytic thoughtways.

In alchemy (Splendor Solis, and elsewhere) the Mercurius Rex is drowning in the sea and is calling out for help. A rationalistic and scientific person finds it hard to admit that he is obsessed with an unconscious projection, and that he is really on the search after the lost spirit in matter, although he doesn't know it. That's the underlying reason why he is obsessed with the world, whether it's scientific experiments, political welfare projects, economical success, etc. Only when he realizes this can he stop the vain search and achieve enlightenment.

So the spirit remains projected onto matter, but it seems Jung never took the step to complete the withdrawal of the spirit from matter. Instead, he understands the call for help from the alchemical Rex as the demand on the ego to operari regi, render service to the King. It is "the necessity of a descent into the dark world of the unconscious" (Ps. and Alchemy, p.329). But this is not an immediate answer to the problem of the withdrawal of spirit from matter, in order to rescue the King from drowning. Here is where the ascetic attitude can make sense, after all. I suggest that the path of the Christian mystic is practicable in this context. But Jung rejected the school of negative mysticism out of hand. I am convinced that the withdrawal of the projection on matter cannot be achieved in connection with a self ideal that builds on completeness. The self of oneness, perfection, and transcendency, must be allowed to play a role, after all.

Your argument may be correct, that the ascetic obsession is in many cases pathological. But my argument is that the trintarian path is tenable, after all, provided that the personality has reached a certain level of maturity and insight, when it is ready for this final step. Jung and von Franz have contributed immensely to the withdrawal of projections, but it is as if Jung was unwilling to draw the logical conclusion from this, and take the final step. Instead he allowed libido to flow back into matter. This is mirrored in the weird off-shoots in post-Jungian psychology, on phenomenological lines, revolving around the Anima Mundi. The gnostics wanted to free her from her imprisonment in the mundane sphere. But the post-Jungians are anti-gnostics in the sense that they promote the worship of her. This is an expression of the pagan spirit and New Age. Against this, I would want to focus on the paradigmatic aspect of gnosis, to once and for all take the final step of redeeming the spirit, and conclusively withdraw our projections on matter, thus relieving us of the expansive heroic attitude that causes devastation to this earth, damages our societies, and drives people out of their minds in their pursuit of illusory goals.

Mats Winther

Matswin

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #23 on: April 12, 2011, 06:28:21 AM »
In Jung's vision of 1944 (MDR, p.289ff) he had the experience that everything worldly was sloughed away. He had the feeling of extreme poverty, but at the same time of great fullness. There was no longer anything he wanted or desired, which sounds very much like the ascetic ideal.

Jung's thinking centers around the transformation of the ego, and consciousness as a whole, in concert with the unconscious. But according to the trinitarian spiritual tradition it is the self which is central, it is this very inner spirit which undergoes transformations. "I live yet not I, Christ liveth my life." Goldsmith says, "the activity of the Spirit comes alive in us, and It takes over: we are no longer good and we are no longer bad; we are no longer sick, but neither are we well. We are at a stage which transcends the pairs of opposites."(Art of Meditation, p.8)

Arguably, Jung's vision compensated his heroic psychology of unconscious integration. After all, to have "everything worldly sloughed away" is fully compliant with the ascetic ideal. The little man in the temple above earth was meditating Jung, and that's the only reason why Jung existed. The ego and its doings are very secondary compared with the self. It is the self that undergoes transformations. Actually, it is the self who is living Jung's life, on lines of St Paul.

I suggest that Jung defended against the transcendental spiritual notion by moving in the other direction, after his convalescence. He moved, as it were, in the direction of the chtonic spirit to escape the demands of the uranic spirit. The reason behind the event when he broke his foot, and the subsequent heart attack, he believed, must depend on his unwillingness to realize his life's myth, to carry the role of the pagan saviour. Drawing on the Merlin myth, he figured himself as a this-worldly saviour figure. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this to be historically correct(?).

This might explain his expression, late in life, of having "failed": "I have failed in my foremost task – to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul, there is a buried treasure in the field, and that our religion and philosophy are in a lamentable state." Evidently, Jung really expected to turn the whole world around. He wanted the ego, and the conscious collective, to transform. It is our consciousness of the world that must change, people must open their eye to the this-worldly spirit. However, the other version of the spiritual path is neglected. To give up one's own life to the spirit within, to devote oneself to the transformations of the self rather than collective consciousness and the ego, is out of the question.

I maintain that Jung's vision in 1944 compensated his focus on the transformation of consciousness by the integration of the unconscious. But the vision caused him to strengthen his defence against the transcendental spirit by going further in the other direction. He took the full step and accepted the pagan paradigm with its ambivalent deity. This is rather typical isn't it? If you can't go along with the self, then you must go in the other direction. Have I got this right?

Mats Winther

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #24 on: April 12, 2011, 06:31:27 AM »
Certain page notes seem to generate emoticons. It should be "page 8".
/Mats

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #25 on: June 19, 2012, 06:25:30 AM »
I have now expanded my article about "The Complementarian Self" with a
chapter Complementarity in Christology.  The notion of the two-unity
of the self can be expressed in different ways. It is interesting to
see what alternative models of two-unity there existed in early
Christianity, regarding the nature of Christ, such as 'miaphysitism',
Nestorianism, etc. It turns out that they correspond to today's
different psychological versions of the self. I argue that the
complementarian self is essentially the same as the 'hypostatic union'
of the two natures of  Christ.

Please read:
http://home7.swipnet.se/~w-73784/compself.htm#Christology

Mats Winther

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Re: The Complementarian Self
« Reply #26 on: October 18, 2012, 02:03:37 PM »
In Critique of Synchronicity (here) I discuss the complementarian self further and direct critique against the Jungian unitarian self.

Mats