Sunday, November 25, 2012

#139. Anthropos: The Primary Driving Force of Our Time

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Post #139 is an Aug-Sept, 1998, review and reflections on Marie-Louise von Franz' book on C. G. Jung and the Anthropos archetype of the Cosmic Person.


C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time, Marie-Louise von Franz (Little, Brown and Co; 1975).

Although it was written 25 years ago [more like 40, now in 2012], and aside from some references to 60’s hippies, this book is as up-to-date as this morning’s newspaper [and, in 2012] the internet news media].

It is a wonderfully hopeful book. Not that it ignores or plays down the tragedies of our time. What it does, in fact, is makes sense of them and explains what we can do about them.

Some of the ideas were new to me. And there were a few that, even as I was reading them, I was aware that I wasn’t understanding them. But, mostly, this is a clear and down to earth description of Jung’s life and work, set in a broad historical context by one of his closest associates, Marie-Louise von Franz.

She first met Jung while she was a teenager, and she died only this summer [1998], well into her 80’s.


The overriding concept in the book is this: that the archetypal image of the Anthropos, the Cosmic Person, is the primary driving force in our time. The essence of the Anthropos archetype is human-cosmic wholeness: our relatedness to all things.

This archetype may not seem familiar to many but, in fact, it is.

Although the images connected with it are quite varied. Catholics will recognize it as the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ or the People of God. And any biblically-oriented reader will know it as St Paul’s New Testament idea of the fulfillment of all things in Christ.

But any contemporary person is familiar with this same archetype in terms of the Earth as a global village, one world, "Spaceship Earth."

And Native Americans still end their prayers and public statements with its affirmation, “All my relations.”


Von Franz points out well what this archetype is all about. Its function, she says, is evident in the zodiac sign of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer: the waters of the unconscious, contained now in a vessel, are being poured into the mouth of a fish.

The great task of the Aquarian Age, says von Franz, is that we are to help the unconscious become conscious (“contained”) and that we are to take care of nature (give the fish a drink of water).

The whole book is an unfolding of that idea. Keeping in mind how long ago the book was written, the ecological focus is especially remarkable.


As is true of any archetype trying to emerge into consciousness, if it not realized consciously by individuals, the Anthropos archetype will express itself negatively.

Just as when an addict-- whether addicted to money or sex or power or drugs or alcohol or gambling or whatever-- looks for meaning in the wrong places, so the drive toward communion with All takes unconscious and negative forms when not realized in the consciousness of individuals.

Those negative forms are the cults, sects, denominations, schisms, jurisdictions and partisan battles-- all the cultural, racial and religious conflicts-- that fill our newspapers and TV screens daily.

The Anthropos archetype shows itself specifically as groups or masses which exclude all who do not identify or agree with them. The patriarchal mindset, because of its rigidity, is especially susceptible to this take-over by the unconscious, so that all "good" is projected on to an organization and its leaders, and all "evil" on to its enemies.

And “enemies” are simply those who see things differently. The result is the conflicting ideologies, violence and terrorism with which we have become all too familiar.

And yet all this is hopeful, in the long run.

It shows clearly how much the urge toward communion with All is operative in our time. The situation is like that of the addict who is dealing with the right problem, but using the wrong means.

As Jung said repeatedly, the salvation of the world depends on individuals.


The book’s ideas are especially helpful in understanding why innovative people are persecuted by the church, and why such “saints” persist in their loyalty to it. They see its goal as the fulfillment of the Anthropos archetype!

It also makes sense of why creative people generally-- those whose passion is to somehow manifest the goodness, beauty and holiness of our existence-- have to operate outside not just the church but all other patriarchal organizations. They simply have no choice.

If you are part of an institutional structure, says von Franz, you will be swallowed by it; it will cause you to lose your individuality, your freedom, your creativity.

For this reason, even if we are not creative artists or innovative “saints,” each of us must oppose, as Jung did, every "ism," every fanaticism and fashionable trend. Only the individual can make the archetype conscious.

Relating rightly to all things and taking care of nature is something only individuals can do, and the Anthropos archetype is what empowers us to do it.


The book offers a clear understanding of the function of archetypes in general, as well as excellent insights into how the Anthropos of Cosmic Person archetype operates at the personal level.

Archetypes are energy-bearing images which empower us to “live and move and be” in certain patterned ways. They are patterns of human behavior just as instincts are patterns of animal behavior. Someone recently called them blueprints for human activity.

And because they result-- when we "own" them-- in a life-giving transformation of consciousness, they are filled with numinosity: we feel them to be of the greatest significance for us. They are. Another age would call them ‘holy’ or ‘sacred.’


The process of "owning" the archetypes as they give themselves to us is called the individuation process. It is a gradual unfolding of the Great Self or True Self within: little by little the person becomes who and what he/she is meant to be.

But while the institutional churches and the emerging global culture carry the Anthropos archetype, it can only be embraced and "owned"-- brought to life-giving consciousness-- by individuals.

The question is, “How?” What means have we, today?


It is well known that Jung cautioned against the use of yoga and other Eastern ways by Westerners. The reason, says von Franz, is that the East has always been much closer to nature than Western Europeans, and it is much more accepting than the West of what we consider "evil."

Rather surprisingly, the Western way, says Jung, is through alchemy and the stories of the Holy Grail. As unlikely as this seems, Jung and von Franz are quite strong on this point.


One question that arises is why the traditional Christ-image is inadequate in our time. What’s wrong with Christian spirituality?

The book offers two reasons. One is, simply, its lopsidedness. The Christ-image is too bright, too full of light; it is perfect but not whole. It lacks darkness. It excludes evil of any kind and reserves all good to itself, projecting evil on to others and Satan. But darkness as well as light needs to be recognized and realized; darkness, too, needs to be incarnated in consciousness.

This is a difficult thought for many. How can there be a dark side to God?

How can we attribute lack of consciousness to that Mystery which is the source of the universe? Jung thinks this clearly must be the case, and offers as evidence the long history of the cosmos and of biological evolution: the millions and billions of years required for the emergence of consciousness on our planet.

Now if there is darkness in God which needs to become conscious, it can only happen via individuals. Von Franz says that this task presumes, first of all, that we are willing to give up any sense of being too sure of just what "good" and "evil" consist.

That we have been created to serve God is hardly a new idea; but in our day we seem to be called to a more mature understanding of the nature of that service.


The second reason von Franz gives for the inadequacy of the Christ-image in our time is that all images tend to fade; they lose their brightness as they ‘age.’

The bright Christ-image worked for about a thousand years, but it began to fade out towards the end of the Middle Ages. This was precisely the time when European alchemy and the Grail stories began to emerge in Western consciousness. At least partly, dealing with the fading light is what alchemy and the legends of the Holy Grail are all about.

The old king is dying. He suffers a “groin injury”-- the patriarchal attitude toward life, itself already several thousand years old-- and he can only be saved by a “young fool” (Parzival, Sir Percy).

Only by Percy’s questioning-- “What the hell is this Grail stuff all about?”-- can the sick king and his wasted kingdom be transformed and made new.

Only by bringing the darkness into the light of consciousness can the aged and faded image once again be rejuvenated.


According to Jung and von Franz, the key to alchemy and the Grail stories is the figure of Merlin. This is a remarkable claim.

That the image of Merlin is one of tremendous significance for our time-- that Merlin, Parzival, the Holy Grail and alchemy are all tied together as the way out of our contemporary wasteland-- is an amazing claim, indeed!

Our sicknesses cannot be healed by any kind of force, violence or intrigue. As an old Chinese proverb says: “In council, the wise man speaks but once. If he is not heard, he retires to his forest hut.”

Merlin, says von Franz, is in this tradition of the forest sages. She connects him with the “hairy hermits,” Elijah and John the Baptist, and also with the older images of the wild man and Kernunnous the Horned One, and the alchemical tricksters, Hermes and Mercury.


The legends say that Merlin was fathered by Satan on an innocent virgin.

According to Jung, the story means that evil and darkness-- or at least what we consider to be evil and darkness-- wants to become incarnate, just as the bright son of God does.

Thus the figure of Merlin combines in his nature both good and evil, light and dark. While he was raised by the priest Blaise and so opts for good, he chooses to operate outside established religion.

This, says von Franz, is the story’s way of telling us that we must not lose the good things attained by the Christian tradition, that we should hold on to the gains made by Christianity even while it itself ages and fades, and we move on to a new stage of humanity’s evolution.


Merlin is the key to alchemy and the Grail stories because he himself is the Grail vessel and the Grail stone: he represents the psychological process we call individuation. (Von Franz doesn’t say so, but it’s important to keep in mind here that we’re talking about midlife transformation, not the youthful stage, but development beyond the adolescent hero.)

Alchemy describes three stages. In the first (black or purification) stage, everything about which you have ever been indignant is going to be served up to you as part of your own being, and you have to deal with it.

Then, once you get yourself together a bit, you enter a second (white) stage: relating to others, especially to the opposite sex (both within and without). It is as simple as that.

And it is out of your autonomy and right relatedness to all things will be born your red/gold true Self.

In a fascinating aside, Von Franz mentions that Jung did not see the Self as the final stage of the individuation process. But he said that what comes after is not anything that would make any sense to anyone, so he never tried to talk about it.

This is the only time I’ve ever seen mention, in any context, of the idea of some of the early Church thinkers that eternal life is not a static but a dynamic process, a ceaseless movement, St. Gregory Nanziensus says, “from glory to glory.”


In any case, it all happens out in the woods, in Merlin’s hut, the place of transformation. And the old stories say that Merlin himself is buried in a stone, or that he was bewitched by a lover and is caught in a bush of some sort, and that we can still hear his cry today.

It's not a lament but a call to transformation and individuation, to unite "good" and "evil" in ourselves and so to "redeem" God.


A few personal thoughts. Von Franz makes the point that the Merlin figure continues in our time the function of the Paleolithic shaman. She simply identifies the initiation process of archaic shamanism with the contemporary individuation process.

She also says that a clear sign of movement beyond patriarchy is the return of the image of the phallos, such as Jung saw in one of his earliest remembered dreams. Apparently, the emergence of phallic imagery always marks the start of something new.

In our time it signals a healing recovery of non-patriarchal manhood and thus the possibility of a right-relatedness to all things, that human-cosmic wholeness which is the essence of the archetype of the Anthropos, the Cosmic Person, and which seeks realization in the emerging Aquarian Age.

This one's vocation to individuation seems to have been life-long. The forest-hermit image has been his since he was an adolescent, and the shamanic image has been his for several decades.

And as he has observed more than once, all his power-animals and spirit-guides seem to be ithyphallic. (It seems he is especially called to the wabeno or “dawn” type shamanism which the 17th century Jesuit missionaries in North America found most obscene and disgusting!)

He identifies with Jung’s words, quoted by von Franz, on his life in the tower at Bollingen. "This one" feels that they, as well as anything ever, sum up what he thinks of as the most secret goal of his inner life.

At times I feel as if
I am spread out over the landscape
and inside things,
and am myself living in every tree,
in the plashing of the waves,
in the clouds and the animals that come and go,
in the procession of the seasons....


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