NOTES ON A TRANSFORMATION: An Application of Chaos Theory & Depth Psychology (2014): Part IX – Archetypal Emergence

27 February 2014

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]


Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This ninth post continues the exposition of Jungian depth psychology and archetypal emergence to my notion meaningful change or transformation.

Archetypal Emergence

In Jung’s (1966)[4] Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (written toward the beginning of the twentieth century and subsequently revised more than once), he provides a detailed exposition of the experience of the emergence into consciousness of archetypal material. And for the sake of accuracy, we need some distinctions here.

Jung hypothesizes archetypes as an explanatory term; he does not insist on their actuality. Thus, one might always put the word archetypes in quotation marks. Thus, whatever we experience as an emergence in consciousness—whether auditory, visual, tactile, or any other sense either identified or not—constitutes an embodiment of the archetype, not the archetype itself. In some cases, this archetypal material comes also with a symbolic resonance; most doesn’t. as Watts makes clear in his presentation, we may claim exactly the same and only the same about all objects: knives and forks, table and chairs, &c. We hypothesize objects, on an analogy with archetypes, because the hypothesis seems to get some helpful intellectual work done. And what appears in our consciousness, then, represents an embodiment of that object—whether as an image, a smell, a taste, a combination, and so forth.

Nothing spooky or weird obtains from this—it offers simply a garden variety phenomenology that, like all phenomenology, honestly enough admits that a description of an experience “isn’t” identical with that experience. This doesn’t stop most of us, however, from mistaking the fact that our hypothesis proves pragmatic and useful tells us nothing as to whether that hypothesis “is true”.

But however the finer points of this debate get derailed in a world addicted to objective truth and naïve realism, we might still attend to  very key moment in this process. That my consciousness experiences (archetypal) objects only in their embodiments, we would have to identify the mechanism that generates these embodiments. The unimaginative—or simply lazy—answer mounts, of course, to the mind; Jung, with characteristic attentiveness, identifies a psychoid “level” that attempts to bridge the gap between the world external to each individual’s perception, which he seems never to have denied being, and its re-presentation in the self-aware part of the psyche.[5] The psychoid level represents for Jung at least in part the biological substrate of the mind but its exact relationship to the unconscious itself cannot, of course, get determined, even if we wanted to. So the distinction between archetype, as a structure of experience, and the psychoid aspect, as a structuring of experience, remain distinct only for the sake of discussing very fine-grained details.

An especially salient point about this archetypal material, this presence in self-aware consciousness generated (by hypothesis) “from” archetypes “by” a psychoid psychic process, involves the objective character of the experience. What we encounter in our self-aware consciousness—in Sartre’s reflective consciousness—appears to us unbidden, in a form we had no hand in the creation of. This comes across obviously enough with the symbol of the solar hyena—I do not experience it as if I invented it—but the point applies just as much to all objects of experience: knives and forks, tables and chairs, &c.

So, insofar as this embodiment of archetypal material has gotten embodied at all, it therefore does not show us the archetype itself. At the same time, the representation itself has (or can have) such an enormous sense of presence that it readily seems to present the symbol. This distinction matters, because a difference prevails between (1) the structure of the experience itself, as an archetype, (2) the specific embodiment of that structure of experience, which I experience objectively, and (3) the name or label or description that I give to that specific embodiment of that structure of experience.

Typically, we overlook the middle step. Instead, we say things like, “I see the world, and I name it” when in fact the process involves three steps: (1) the experience itself, a priori, before I perceive it, (2) my self-awareness of that experience, which my consciousness constructs and presents to me, objectively, in the form of it that I encounter, and (3) the name, label, or description I give to that construction.

I dwell on these three steps only to show that Jung’s explanatory framework already encompasses these three steps. Step 1 he hypothesizes as within the unconscious; step 2 involves the manifestation of (archetypal) material to our self-awareness (in dramatic cases, as explored in this paper, as a symbol); step 3 involves our identification of the symbol, or naming of it, which gradually makes it into a sign. And, in fact, this making into a sign involves the larger process of integration Jung brings to our encounter with symbols but, again, this jumps ahead in the exposition. Still, we may see how the process runs from the unknown unknown (the unconscious), to the known unknown (the symbol), to the unknown known (as we come to grapple with the still unexplored symbol in an analytical, integrative sense), and finally the known known (as a sign, that has become a part of our psychic activity).

In the broadest sense, all material that issues out of the unconscious—more precisely, psychic material we encounter as a presence in consciousness, which we hypothesize as originating in the unconscious—runs through this four-fold process, more or less quickly. Jung found himself often concerned with archetypal material that affected the quality of life of his patients, and very often this material appeared in the form of a symbol. I want to stress, again, that symbolic material does not only appear in visual form, but my manifest as sound, smells, impulses, intuitions, words, &c. If I keep referring only to symbols—as one type of experience of archetypal material—I do so only because that provides the focus of these notes, even as it helps to have a broader context for them.

Most archetypal material seems to wash up—like dreams—only to disappear again into oblivion without a trace. Whether those operations serve some (still unknowable) purpose, when this material comes to dominate our consciousness in a problematic way—leading even to psychosis, when severe enough—then it becomes helpful to have some sense why this stuff comes from.

Although, in the present example of the solar hyena, the symbol seems to have served more as the lightning rod, the focus around which numerous incoming threads constellated. This suggests an interesting sense for the typically seen “arms” of the sun; we imagine them usually as radiating outward, but perhaps we should (also) imagine them as spiraling inward. Very often we see two kinds of arms on the sun—greater and lesser ones—and perhaps this captures the dual directionality; we may certainly take it as such. The astrophysical origin of stars, in any case, begin by a gravitational inwardness, a massive accretion of material that finally, when it reaches a sufficient mass, detonates, and finally becomes visible. And event hen, over the daily life of the star, the tension of inward and outward plays continuously, the whole shape of the sun consisting ultimately of the opposed tensions of gravitational collapse and explosive radiation. So we might—perhaps overextending the metaphor—imagine dreams like solar flares from a black sun, rising up in great arcs only to fall back into the interior again,  few wisps of its heat and some matter hurled out into the space.[6] Whether the archetypal material deranges or arranges becomes partly a matter of degree and partly a matter of how much we can accommodate in our lives. The very narrow social ambit for many of the women Jung saw may not have permitted enough “wiggle room” for archetypal material that manifested so that it expressed itself, or got taken as expressing, a neurosis. &c.

My desire here rests more to speak of why the circumstance of transformative change comes about and less to describe how in specifically Jungian terms, but it seems some amount of how must creep in. Jung ascribes, for instance, a complementary operation to the Unconscious. If we become too one-sided in our approach to daily life—Jung goes into considerable detail about varieties of this, but for this paper it suffices just to imagine that we become too much routinized in some way—then the Unconscious will (may) manifest a counterweight to offset that one-sidedness. It seems, in general, only in cases of a great deal of one-sided neglect might some sort of major (visionary) form of archetypal material manifest—so that cases Jung saw (and experienced himself) will tend to fall into this major category.

In these relatively critical experiences, Jung (1966)[7] noted the consequences of identifying one’s ego consciousness with the archetypal material (the symbol) as inflation or godlikeness; as Noll (1994)[8] puts it correctly in his dubious book, “Attempts to ‘annex’ contents of the unconscious, especially the impersonal unconscious, enlarge and bloat the individual personality, leading to a state of subjective ‘godlikeness’” (222)—except I can imagine Jung taking issue with the term subjective.[9] One of my summaries and discussion of this runs:

This notion that Christ’s passion is my passion, that Christ’s persecution is my persecution, that Christ’s suffering is my suffering, points to what Jung means by inflation or ‘godlikeness’. Jung maintains that when we become too one-sided in our psychic life, or potentially through any other type of significant psychic disequilibrium, then the unconscious may offer up compensatory imagery out of the unconscious. And like all material that issues out of the unconscious, it comes freighted with archaic elements that tend for that reason to have a charge of fascination or numinousness. Confronted by this, we may as one strategy attempt to avoid or repress the material, which tends only to reset the clock on its later manifestation, perhaps in a more virulent or neurotic form. Alternatively, the analysand may identify her ego-consciousness with this material in all of its archaisms. As a solution to disequilibrium, Jung did not see this as providing a final resolution or integration of the material, since whatever originating one-sidedness had called up such compensating material in the first place, merely to embrace this compensation takes off the table whatever was held (by one’s ego-consciousness) to be important previously.

Moreover, while possessed by this now-conscious embodiment of compensating unconscious material, we will tend to experience ego-inflation, precisely because the unconscious material is, by definition, transpersonal. Although embodied in consciously limited imagery, the significance it points to stands larger than the individual, and thus Jung refers to this inflation as godlikeness. While often certainly uplifting and visionary, Jung still insists it can’t go on forever, being simply a different disequilibrium than whatever brought it about in the first place, so that one might anticipate an eventual (ironic) compensatory puncturing—either experienced directly by the person or by his or her growing loneliness as all of the cultic followers leave in disillusioned disgust. At that point, only the truest true believers or those most capable of being cowed into submission would remain. The process of individuation, by contrast, involves incorporating this fascinating, numinous material into one’s ego-consciousness rather than allowing it dominate (to possess) one’s ego consciousness.

For Jung, identification of ego-consciousness with archetypal material provided a stop along the way to integration. Elsewhere, in books I’ve yet to read, Jung discusses the transcendent function, which (as the name implies) must somehow transcend archetypal material as it presents itself. Thus, we have three general forms of address we might make to archetypal material that impinges loudly enough on ego-consciousness that we feel forced to address it: repression (forgetting), integration, and transcendence, however that works.

Again, my object in this does not involve explicitly shoe-horning the how of this into the chaos theory mold, but to characterize the why (as an explanation of psychic activity that lays the foundation for transformative change). Of course, most people who visited Jung did so under the duress of oppressive archetypal material,[10] but might we try to poke or prod the Unconscious in some way? More precisely, can we deliberately harness or prompt these mechanisms, either for one’s own individuation or in service of the individuation of others (via Art). To ask this seriously jumps the gun, but I want to remember it as part of the broader context of these notes generally.


[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. As just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Jung, C. G. (1966). Two essays on analytical psychology. 2d ed., rev. and augmented. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[5] Phenomenology in general wrangles over the question of “out there” less than positivism and skepticism (i.e., naïve realism) do, but it does have its history. As far as the debate between positivism and skepticism, Korzybski’s useful remark sheds some important light. “There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking” (attributed here)

[6] Perhaps more exactly, we misunderstand the true arrangement because we do not think of the sun as “in” the unconsciousness of space, the Sun itself already embodying a massive outpouring from the limitlessness darkness of the Unconscious that provided the seed for the Sun in the first place, the fruitful chaos. Some sense of this “larger picture” may lurk a bit in the notion of the black sun, which provides a “negative image” of the astrophysical circumstance: a black sun against a limitless field of space (as light).

[7] Jung, C. G. (1966). Two essays on analytical psychology. 2d ed., rev. and augmented. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[8] Noll, R. (1994). The Jung cult: origins of a charismatic movement. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[9] That godlikeness originates in an identification with archaic (collective) material out of the Unconsciousness suggests that it may more seem “transpersonal” than “subjective”. It may miss a key element of the experience of people in mental health wards who identified with Jesus to describe it as “subjective” rather than “universal” (i.e., transpersonal).

[10] If not out and out neurosis or psychosis.


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