The world’s cultures are all based upon a particular religion. Since the Age of Reason, however, these religious beliefs have been progressively dismissed as mere superstitions. With the rise of science, the heavens were robbed of their deity, leaving society without a living myth. At this point, Nietzsche declared, “God is dead!”.
So begins a new era. We are now in need of a new story, a new truth. One as rich and meaningful as our previous religious traditions, yet also one which is palatable to the modern intellect.
We now have this new vision. In answer to the death and decay of our religious outlook, we have witnessed the emergence of depth psychology. The gods of old have taken up a new abode as the archetypes of the collective unconscious. What was once projected upon the heavens, must now be found within ourselves.
With archetypal psychology, we can explore our psychological anatomy with the same objectivity that we might study our physical anatomy. This psychological anatomy is reflected in our stories, in our myths, legends, fairy tales and great works of literature. Rather than be dismissed as meaningless, our stories may be mined in search of universal themes. To fathom the depths of the psyche, we need only to appreciate the facts masked as fiction.
Far from irrelevant, our stories harbour psychological truths. Jack and the Beanstalk explains how we need to take a risk and follow our dreams, yet not fall prey to the gigantic forces of our imagination. Sleeping Beauty warns us of the problem of vanity and jealousy while The Lord of Rings speaks of a world in peril.
When explored symbolically, the old myths live again. Fairy tales are rendered instructive. Legends illuminate the key pathways before us, and the drama of the gods is revealed as the drama of our human psyche.
Stories are full of wisdom. They enrich our soul. Each Seminar in Comparative Myth & Archetypal Psychology will centre around a particular theme. The story to be explored might be a fairy-tale, myth, medieval legend, work of literature or a film. It may be fantasy, science fiction or the basis of religious faith such as the story of Christ or the life of Buddha.
Pairing the intellect with the imagination represents a powerful combination. While the story carries the message, and speaks to a deeper sense, the lens of archetypal psychology draws out its meaning. To fathom the depths of the psyche, one must appreciate facts masked as fiction. In much the same way one might interpret a dream, participants are invited to immerse themselves in a selected story such that its wisdom is revealed.
According to the Christian myth, Jesus announced to his disciples that he was to be betrayed and crucified. Following the last supper, he retreated to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed. Agonising over his fate, Jesus asked God if he might be spared. Adding that, if necessary, he would accept God’s command. An angel appeared from heaven and gave him the strength required to submit to his forthcoming ordeal.
When Judas led the mob to him, Jesus restrained those who rose in his defence. He explained that his destiny should be fulfilled. As per God’s will, Jesus allowed himself to be taken and crucified.
Jung explains that there are two centres to the psyche, the ego and the greater Self. We are all familiar with the ego, that part of ourselves we identify with, the part we call ‘I’. The Self, however, remains relatively obscured, operating at a level beyond our awareness.
Given a spiritual awakening, or Self-activation, we are taken by an aspiration that reaches beyond the ego. This spiritual journey has various names. Jung termed it the process of individuation, the path to wholeness. Here the Self shines the way, leading us forward to a greater potential.
The story of Christ describes how demanding the Self can be. God’s will is imposed upon Jesus. As the poet, W. H. Auden explains, “we are lived by powers that we pretend to understand”. As per its master plan, the Self forces itself upon the ego.
This is as it needs to be. Imbued in nature is the evolutionary drive that seeks an ever-greater consciousness. Like the cells within a larger body, we live in service to a transpersonal whole. The scriptures explain that Jesus died upon the cross, not for any individual wrongdoing, but for the salvation of all.
Our personal redemption is of no real consequence. Of more importance is what the individual realises on behalf of the collective. Christ achieved a metamorphosis of the Self and inaugurated a new epoch. The collective God-image was renewed. Yahweh, the cantankerous god of the Old Testament, was transformed into the loving God of the New Testament.
Christianity teaches that Christ died on the cross so that we need not. Although it can take decades or even centuries to come through, subsequent generations are born into a new consciousness. We stand on the shoulders of giants. The evolution of consciousness is pioneered by our artists, thinkers and prophets. The consciousness they create, they create for all. They are the steppingstones in the history of the world, the branches on a greater tree.
There is always further to go, however. The Self calls for an ongoing process of development and renewal. Working at this level can be excruciating. Creative artists are often familiar with these depths. Nietzsche considered himself crucified. Similarly, when asked how he could live with the consciousness he created, Jung replied, “I live in my deepest darkest hell, and from there I cannot fall any further”.
It was once thought that the sun revolved around the earth until Copernicus realised that it was the earth that revolved around the sun. Psychology is due for a similar revolution.
Self-oriented psychology explores the evolution of consciousness from the perspective of the Self. This revised stance serves as a new reference point, offering a clarified understanding, not only of our trials and tribulations but also of our true place in the world.