Tag Archives: the religious function

Consciousness in Transition

A large part of education will always be devoted to the formation of a persona, which will make the individual… socially presentable, and will teach him not what is, but what may be regarded as, real; all human societies are at all times far more interested in instructing their members in the techniques of not looking, of overlooking and of looking the other way than in sharpening their observation, increasing their alertness and fostering their love of truth.” — Depth Psychology and a New Ethic — Erich Neumann.

An historical view of our development will attest the fact that we’re currently entering a new stage of consciousness. A brief look at the scientific advances of the last century ought well convince the most hardened skeptic. The intellectual creativity and focus required for them are truly astounding. But, the increase in focus they represent is at the expense of another vital function of a more diffuse nature, a different kind of awareness: the religious function.

While Neumann’s quote may not apply to the relatively few specialists who’ve thrust intellectual objectivity into the collective spotlight, their love of truth is restricted mainly to the material world. Another reality lurks behind today’s fascination with objectivity. Psychic law dictates that the greater our focus on objects, the more we lose sight of the subject — ourselves: what we do with things and how we relate to life, its purposes and meaning. Human instincts are finely tuned to an irrational earthly existence, now obscured by rational truths — yet still driven by age-old spiritual fantasies. Neumann:

Every kind of restriction may be imposed by the collective. But whether it is a case of a taboo in a primitive tribe, a social convention or a moral prohibition, whether it is a question of not mentioning certain subjects or of not admitting certain facts or of behaving as if certain non-existent entities in fact existed or of saying things which one does not mean or not saying things which one does mean — every time it makes one of these demands the collective will be guided be certain principles which are vital to…  the development of consciousness. Without these values it could not exist — or such, at least, is its firm conviction.

Neumann here puts his finger on the modern dilemma; for, these same values, without which we’re convinced humanity can’t exist, now threaten to destroy the civilized world. From constant global tensions to open hostilities to outright war; from the willful destruction of our habitat for no more than our own greed and convenience to the sheer waste of finite resources built into it (all of which would be deemed psychotic in the individual), the shadow-side of our collective natures — the regressive ideologies, stunted politics, run-away technologies, fake news, and all the rest — conspires against us.

The ego will receive the reward of moral recognition… to the exact extent to which it succeeds in identifying with the persona, the collectivised facade personality — the… reason being that this facade personality is the visible sign of agreement with the values of the collectiveFrom this point of view, it makes no difference whether the persona-personality by means of which ego identifies itself with the demands and values of society… belongs to a medicine man or a solicitor, a chieftain or a party functionary, a king or an artist. It is equally irrelevant whether the society which imposes this collective mask… is primitive or civilised, democratic or Fascist.”

Neumann goes on to discuss the “contrast between “conscience” and the “inner voice” as a basic conflict between the individual and society which creative design is to raise consciousness beyond the torpor of convention and adapt it to ever-changing conditions, internally as well as externally, for consciousness evolved to adapt in two directions at once. “This contrast is most clearly exemplified in the founders of new religions and ethical movements; these were invariably “criminals”, and it was inevitable that they should be treated as such. Abraham… Jesus and Luther… all these were regarded as criminals…

On the authority of conscience, the persona excludes a number of psychic components. In part, these are repressed into the unconscious, but in part, too, they are controlled by the ego and consciously eliminated from the life of the personality. All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonise with the collective values — everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact — now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognised by the ego.”

These psychic facts are “the expression of our own imperfection and earthliness, the negative which is incompatible with the absolute values… our inferior corporeality in contradistinction to the absoluteness and eternity of a soul which “does not belong to this world”. Such has been our general history up to the last generation…

But, it can also appear in the opposite capacity as “spirit”, for instance when the conscious mind only recognises the material values of this life. The shadow represents the uniqueness and transitoriness of our natures… it is our own state of limitation and subjection to the conditions of time and space.

Here we enter a modern phase of spiritual possession in which the old values and ideals begin the transition into their opposites — in full accordance with psychic law. Since the shadow contains all that’s incompatible with the collective values with which the ego-facade identifies; and since these values have unconsciously shifted from a subjective search for truth to the ‘objective’ world through a symptomatic (and symbolic) obsession with it, ego identifies not only with the forgotten gods of its projected history, but seeks to further transcend its nature by identifying with the new god of it’s own intellect.

(My next post will be a continuation of this one.)

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Religious Images and Psychic Reality

Though the ego is only one complex of associations in the psyche, it has evolved as a coordinator: what it is drawn to as an object of attention will be where and how its energy is applied. These motives are based on unconscious processes, and only by turning conscious attention to them can we find deeper meaning and purpose beyond the preconceptions of ego and its one-sided, paradoxical intentions.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious          

Religious images have dominated human culture since beyond recorded history. So far as we know, they evolved with consciousness: a natural balancing function designed to compensate a split psychic system. As such, they reflect changes in the way we relate to ourselves and the world as we evolve.

This implies that we not blindly or literally accept their centuries-old forms. But, it also implies that their denial means not only that the split has widened between consciousness and its foundations but is in danger of losing the thread altogether as the earlier forms change.

Jung saw spirit as life-energy, and an unconscious symbol-making function points to a diffuse reality beyond what modern ego (preacher and scientist included) intuits in the unbridled fulfillment of instinctual, material desire it calls progress.

Today it’s a matter of some importance as an analogy. Only a fluid mind can grasp an analogy, and religious beliefs and scientific assumptions alike are perhaps the greatest test of our ability to relate and discriminate between a conscious reality and an unconscious one.

Not only is this a primary aim of religion, it’s what Jung’s psychology is about: the life-urge he conceptualized as libido (psychic energy) mediates a concrete reality through images. Beneath sense perception, they express analogies of psychic processes, and the associations embedded in them describe as much how we relate to things as the things themselves.

It’s the nature of a subjective ego to see the world according to its own limited perspective, both individually and ideologically, and it’s taken many centuries to even begin to separate the ideal from the real. Conscious discrimination of want vs. need in the larger context of this double-sided prism is how we see — and don’t see — their conflicting realities.

As Jung pointed out, the religious function is as innate as sense perception. It is, in fact, the complement of it, and its denial defines belief and assumption as inadequate and often misleading substitutes for an indirect psychic reality. Reflections on emotions and their associations provide unconscious information about our relations to objects and their effects on us.

This counter-pole to sense perception is just as real as the material world; the images it produces appear the more exaggerated and fantastic (even hostile) the more we identify with the sensual world: the compensations intended to direct us toward an objective inner reality. A certain measure of opposition between the two standpoints is inherent but, when it attains a critical intensity, destructive projections are the result.

… and God gave man dominion over the earth.” has a high-sounding ring when concieved as a heavenly directive. But, whose god can assert it without revealing a profound contradiction? Today, only a devil could make such a proclamation. Yet still, we believe in our own self-deification.

James Branch Cabell fabled in his, Figures of Earth, a confrontation between Manuel the Redeemer and the disembodied head of Misery, as the two met on Count Manuel’s doorstep in his isolated cabin in the “irrational forest”: “… I wonder why misery should have been created to feed upon mankind.” the Count pondered.

Probably the cows and sheep and chickens in your barnyards, and the partridges and rabbits in your snares, and even the gasping fish upon your hook, find time to wonder in the same way about you…” replied Misery.

What is this contrary nature-image that refutes our best and loftiest intentions and even turns them into their opposites? Is it the severed head of repression, our own misunderstood natures, that appeared on Count Manuel’s doorstep as he looked down below astonished and confounded? Where was it’s body, its foundation, its wholeness?

Ah, but man is the higher form of life —” said Manuel. “Granting that remarkable assumption,”  Misery countered,  “and is any man above Misery? So you see it is quite logical I should feed on you.

Still, I believe that the Misery of earth was devised as a trial and a testing to fit us for some nobler and eternal life hereafter.” Manuel responded. “Why in the world would you think that?” the head inquired… Because I have an immortal spirit, sir, and —

Dear me, but this is all very remarkable. Where is it, Manuel?” — It is inside me somewhere, sir.

Come then, let us have it out, for I am curious to see it.” — No, it cannot get out exactly, sir, until I am dead.

But, what use will it be to you then?” said Misery: “and how can you, who have not ever been dead, be certain as to what happens when one is dead?” — Well, I have always heard so, sir.

So are we taught. Depth psychology has shown that it can get out — here and now, if we would conceive it. But, only the “god-like” effort of consciousness, it’s active examination of its own nature, would reconcile us to the images which point to the veiled reality behind concrete perception.

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