chapter  13
12 Pages

Jung on archetypes and altered states

Our discussion of brain and psyche now reaches the realm of experience most readily associated with the name C. G. Jung: the spiritual, numinous, transcendent, and transformative. Because it has earned Jung the disparaging title of “mystic” among “hard-headed” writers from Sigmund Freud to J. Allan Hobson, we have fi rst sought to establish a secure foundation in the discoveries and theories of today’s mainstream science for Jung’s ideas about the conscious mind and its “penumbra,” to use William James’ expression, the poorly illuminated and fuzzily defi ned region of human experience that might just as well be conscious. Jung calls it the “personal unconscious”—the domain of the complexes. The discovery of the complexes guided the early years of Jung’s psychiatric practice. He fi rst assumed that therapy might consist in simply informing the patient of the nature of her complex and the putative traumatic experiences that lay behind it. Grateful to be informed, although chastened to know the shameful truth about herself, the patient was to end her denials, face up to her obligations, and change the course of her life. This was clearly an overly optimistic plan, but not unlike Freud’s fi rst naive and briefl y held notion of what therapy ought to be. In his autobiography Jung even gives us some spectacular instances where the procedure seems to have worked (MDR: 114-30). Soon, however, he was talking about an “energy gradient” (CW6: ¶130). He was thinking of a waterfall, a ball rolling down an inclined plane, or the fl ow of electrons between the poles of a battery. Movement occurs in the psyche only when there is a natural downhill fl ow of energy. We are rarely if ever successful at simply deciding to change. Something powerful must move us. “Psychic energy is a very fastidious thing . . . we cannot make it serviceable until we have succeeded in fi nding the right gradient” (CW7: ¶76). In the last analysis, what supplies psyche’s irresistible energy gradient is always the archetype with its “distinctively numinous character which can only be described as ‘spiritual,’ if ‘magical’ is too strong a word” (CW8: ¶405). When an archetype “becomes conscious, it is felt as strange, uncanny, and at the same time fascinating. At all events the conscious mind falls under its spell . . . [it] always produces a state of alienation” (CW8: ¶590). By means of its power to fascinate, an archetype can “mould the destinies of individuals [for good or ill] by

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unconsciously infl uencing their thinking, feeling, and behavior” (CW5: ¶467). Ultimately experiencing an archetype is the bottom line in psychological transformation; for only the compellingly emotional downhill fl ow of instinctual energy is capable of “producing extensive alterations in the subject” (CW7: ¶110).