Jung’s model of the psyche was a basic one with an immense body of empirical material behind it. It often requires going back to fundamentals to re-think the misconceptions he strove to clarify. Even more so today than in his time, an object-focused perspective has difficulty connecting with the subjective nature of knowledge he advanced.
The discoveries of depth psychology: our animalness, our bisexuality, and the inherently religious character of the psyche — all of which knowledge is supported by the respective disciplines — are only loose, dissociated facts until we can incorporate them into a meaningful whole. Today’s specialized sciences are so exclusive that it’s easy to lose sight of the psychological implications of all our knowledge. One of the tasks of psychology is to give our search a human direction.
What Jung saw as scientific materialism in the twentieth century — a counter-swing away from the Church toward natural inquiry — only gains momentum into the new millennium as commercial interests attempt to enhance and exploit our fascination with things and technology in ever more deceptive ways.
Just as an unconscious worldly spirit worked through alchemy to balance an otherworldly religious perspective and guide it back toward earthly reality, the new viewpoint swings toward the opposite extreme. Symbolic disorders have a spiritual aspect, though more often than not treated with medications — projections which, if not in theory at least in practice, are designed to relieve us of our spiritual confusion. What were once religious problems between man, god, and nature are now conflicts between man, his culture, and his own nature.
A neglected soul imparts little wisdom to an intellect bound to the senses, and the universal mysteries once projected into religious ideas have fallen back into the personal psyche. As Jung showed, consciousness can in no way contend with such powerful instinctual forces solely on its own devices. Though we would be superhuman, animal tendencies yet make us inhuman, and we treat others as such without knowing it.
Jung saw the image of man as being pre-determined. Just as every seed contains its future form, each is compelled toward what nature intended it to be. From the very dawn of self-consciousness symbolized in the story of Eden through our evolution into civilized societies, natural instinctive processes have guided our development. The idea of being “made in the image of God” was a symbolic intuition of it, intended to carry forward that distant seed of reflection.
Psychologically, the energy needed to produce consciousness is generated by unconscious conflicts between contending stages of development. Every child is outfitted with the forms corresponding to their progression. On a deeper level than parental instruction, these archetypes support and prepare the developing mind and push it through its evolutionary history into the contemporary stage — or thereabout.
The process of becoming self-aware condensed in the story of Eden was felt as disobedience (or opposition) to the law of unconscious wholeness. It reflected a capacity for choice, for weighing possibilities beyond animal instinct. As it grew, it gradually split the psyche into two separate systems. As the myth says, it was initiated not by a god but by the conflicts of conscious choice amid opposing impulses symbolized by the snake. It requires an earthly spiritual function to mediate instinct in a split mind, and all choice is relative to it. Images of space and other worlds still describe our dissociation from nature’s inner reality.
As we evolve, we identify with certain functions which signal new stages of development. New forms supersede older ones, though the old functions don’t disappear. The original Adam (consciousness) who emerged from the blind world of nature constitutes a profound spiritual conflict — one we can no more outgrow than the mind can outgrow the body.
The soul as mediator of spirit, of instinct, in its consciously developed form is a religious function which took centuries to define. Though it was a form of consciousness, intellectual understanding wasn’t necessary to connect with it even a century ago. The development of thought has outpaced the older form of awareness, and today we need psychological tools to understand who we are beneath the subjective meanderings of conscious focus. As we once bowed to God as an image of unity, of unconscious wholeness, so we yield to natural laws.
In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann addressed the uneven psychological development of the modern individual: “This betrays itself in many ways — for example, as a technologist he may be living in the present, as a philosopher in the period of the Enlightenment, as a man of faith in the Middle Ages and as a fighter of wars in antiquity — all without being in the least aware how, and where, these partial attitudes contradict each other.”
We’re products of nature. Beneath the illusion of conscious unity, we live on in old philosophical assumptions which have passed unexamined from generation to generation: symbols which would define the split in our natures. The scientific materialism of today is too deeply opposed to the symbolic view to facilitate reconciliation. Its truth is in need of its opposite. The door to that opposite was opened by Jung’s comparative method, and we need to swing it wide to contend with the dangerous extremes produced by an unconscious nature.