Archetypal Polytheism 

C.G. Jung on the Gods

October 27, 2015 / by Todd

Archetypes were, and still are, living psychic forces that demand to be taken seriously, and they have a strange way of making sure of their effect. Always they were the bringers of protection and salvation, and their violation has as its consequence the “perils of the soul” known to us from the psychology of primitives.

Collected Works 9.1 ¶ 266

The mere use of words is futile if you do not know what they stand for. This is particularly true in psychology, where we speak of archetypes like the anima and animus, the wise old man, the great mother, and so on. You can know about all the saints, sages, prophets, and other godly men, and all the great mothers of the world, but if they are mere images whose numinosity you have never experienced, it will be as if you were talking in a dream, for you do not know what you are talking about. The words you use are empty and valueless, and they gain life and meaning only when you try to learn about their numinosity, their relationship to the living individual. Then only do you begin to understand that the names mean very little, but that the way they are related to you is all-important.

Collected Works 18 ¶ 590

Let us consider the gods as a whole before discussing the individuals. From the viewpoint of depth psychology, the gods stand for the archetypes, the basic patterns within the human psyche that exist independent of personal experience. They are the templates on which the individual life is formed. Mythologically, these eternal patterns are thought of as gods, existing in a special place apart from ordinary human experience. The Greeks called that special region Olympus, and thought of it originally as a mountain peak, and later as the whole upper sky.

Psychologically we can consider the idea of an Olympian realm as a projection onto the outer world (onto the sky in this case) of an inner state. It would be a state that is eternal, unchanging, and a realm of the spirit, as opposed to matter. Every now and then one encounters the notion that such images amount to nothing more than wish fulfillment. But no wish was fulfilled in the original Greek conception of Olympus, since as the myths and all the early literature make clear, there was no advantage to them in imagining the Olympians up in their heavenly realm. Quite the contrary, the Olympian existence merely emphasized the misery of mortal life. We are left with the conclusion that there exists an eternal psyche, or something symbolized by an eternal psyche, that is of greater duration than the ego. This idea is developed in Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, the abode of the archetypes. In his purely psychological view, the heavenly realm of the Greek gods is seen as a part of the human psyche, which is beyond time and space and beyond the control of the conscious personality.

Edward R. Edinger, The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology

…it may even happen that the archetypal figures, which are endowed with a certain autonomy anyway on account of their natural numinosity, will escape from conscious control altogether and become completely independent, thus producing the phenomena of possession.

Perhaps we may sum up this general phenomenon as Ergriffenheit–a state of being seized or possessed. The term postulates not only an Ergriffener (one who is seized) but also an Ergreifer (one who seizes). Wotan is an Ergreifer of men, and, unless one wishes to deify Hitler–which has indeed actually happened–he is really the only explanation.

He is a fundamental attribute of the German psyche, an irrational psychic factor which acts on the high pressure of civilization like a cyclone and blows it away.

Because the behaviour of a race takes on its specific character from its underlying images we can speak of an archetype “Wotan.” As an autonomous psychic factor, Wotan produces effects in the collective life of a people and thereby reveals his own nature.

Collected Works 10 ¶ 386-391


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