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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Pansies of Numinosity

Some time ago, one of my blog buddies wrote to me, and mentioned his current enthusiasm for 'numinosity'. Numinosity, the numinous: great words, evoking primal magic, imagination, mystery, the Other. Best viewed mythically rather than tied down, chained, and reduced by logical definition. Such is not their purpose, their way.

Mention of the numinous immediately conjures, in my mind at least, the figure of Jung. It was a word that he used, and which I presume he was fond of. As time passes, my admiration for Jung only grows, his stature increases. Not that I am pretending he was a saint, a guru, an exemplar to be blindly followed. Not at all. But he put out so much amazing stuff, lots based on his own experience, and during a period of history when to speak about some of the things he spoke about required a good deal more courage and chops than it does nowadays.

Many modern Jungian analysts and therapists are, I suspect, extremely selective about the Jung that they deliver. Personality types, shadow work, dipping into the archetypes: OK. Creative imagination: writing, drawing, dancing. No problem. But some of Jung's stuff is seriously 'out there'. Alchemy, astrology, UFOs, throwing the I Ching before a consultation. No thank you very much.

Jung has been one of the greatest influences of all upon my own life. He has pointed me to pastures new as well as describing and clarifying a number of experiences that I was at a loss to understand otherwise. Deep within that great cauldron of investigation and exploration that is Jung, however, I spy two subjects on which, to be so bold, I suggest he was wrong.

First up, Christianity. Actually, he said many fine, insightful, and to some people shocking, things about Christianity. He saw with crystal clarity how the Christian ideal, embodied in the figure of Jesus Christ, was lopsided, accepting of one side only of humanity and the universe in general. It is the Light, and has no room for the Dark. Thus, darkness is denied rather than incorporated, and projected out into ultimate bad and evil, onto other beliefs and peoples, and comes to be embodied in the Devil. A religion that is so stuck in duality, identifying exclusively with one side of the divine equation without seeing beyond, cannot help but be a blight on this world.

Jung's deep understanding of this dualism, which remains unresolved, and which is therefore left to run amok throughout western culture in its widest sense, flowed out into his perception of topics way beyond Christianity as such. At the end of the section discussing alchemy in the cartoonish yet pretty spot-on 'Introducing Jung' by Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness, there is a picture of the alchemical 'Rebis', the reborn. This is the end of the line in alchemical studies. It is not a figure of obvious beauty, of supernal light, as one might expect, however. It is instead a weird-looking hermaphrodite grasping snakes, standing atop a crescent moon, and with a raven looking on. "Why is the desired goal of alchemy portrayed in this monstrous form?" is the question reasonably posed by a cartoon character in the book.. "Because," the cartoon Jung explains, "alchemy is the 'maternal darkness' that compensates for Christianity's 'paternal light'." I find this insight to be brilliant: it is a statement not purely about the religion in its literal sense, but concerns the entire project of western civilisation over the past 2000 years.

Note: there are variations in the depictions of the Rebis. Sometimes the hermaphrodite stands upon a winged dragon rather than a moon, for example. The overall nature of the illustration will be similar.

Jung had other ideas about the Christian God that would be perplexing, if not shocking and considered blasphemous, by any orthodox believer. He speculated that God remains imperfect and continues in a state of transformation: he is a still-evolving God. These statements would raise the blood-pressure of any self-respecting theologian, for sure.

Yes, despite seeing all the nonsense that is Christianity, Jung couldn't let go. He continued to place hope for the future in changes in the Christian religion. I suppose that this strange course of events was based on his premise that spiritual answers for the west need to be based in our roots, our history, our own traditions rather than importing them from the orient or elsewhere. Fair enough, I would say. But Christianity is not really an indigenous tradition to western Europe. It was, in its time, a foreign import, first introduced through the late Roman Empire in search of a unifying factor for its own crumbling edifice. And, what's more, orthodox Christianity is a system at the service of a false god. I nowadays insist upon this. It is based on the great impostor, the demiurge as perceived by Gnostics, the one who pretends to be the creator of all. He and his cohorts, the archons, whether we take them literally or metaphorically. The Gnostics were right on this. So there can be no healing in the west that is based upon a falsehood, a distortion, an untruth.

So I find it slightly laughable, raher quaint even, when Jung gets excited about the Catholic Church proclaiming the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1950. "The most important religious event since the reformation" he apparently called it, since he considered it as giving a place to the feminine in the spiritual realm, expanding the trinity (God the father etc) into a more complete quaternity. Had he lived a little longer, Jung might have seen how irrelevant Christianity, or any dogma-based monotheism, was for any spiritual hope in the modern world. It is with a touch of irony that we note how much of Jung's work has been instrumental in laying the foundations for much of the mystical/spiritual work of today, which moves far away from anything conventional Christianity is ever going to serve up. 'Spiritual life after Christianity' owes more to Jung than probably any other single figure.

So this is the first thing that I suggest Jung was mistaken about. There is a second: but, in the tradition of the pansy, I shall keep this short and leave it for another time.