The Self in Historical Light
Iamblichus versus Porphyry
“Red and blue composition”. Serge Poliakoff (1965).
: The article investigates the Neoplatonic
Self notion. In the historical record the ideal of personality and the psychological notion of Self have taken many forms. Also the modern ideals of Self are discussed and criticized, such as the puer aeternus
(eternal youth) and the primal
Self. The author argues that Carl Jung’s notion of Self is one-sidedly immanent —
there is also a transcendental aspect of Self. In the heated debate between Porphyry and Iamblichus, both were right in their own way.
: Plotinus, Neoplatonism, primary narcissism, grandiose self, ego-Self axis, Erich Neumann, Michael Fordham, psychoanalysis, puer aeternus, Romantic era.
Part I: Antique concepts of Self
In Neoplatonism, the realization of individual existence depends on a process of ‘authupostata’ (self-constitution). It means that the thing generated is becoming conscious of its separation
from the source. (It applies to everything created since, in Plotinus, also stones, mountains, etc., are ensouled.) The source is the transcendental One —
the goodness, unity, harmony and continuity from which all being has emanated through consecutive levels (cf. Remes, 2008, p.52). In Neoplatonism, the perceived world and its entities are regarded as derived. Individuation means the “fall” or descent of the soul. Says Pauliina Remes:
As a part of the Intellect, each of us would have no true individual existence. The human striving towards individual existence, towards being oneself, separates the souls from the original “togetherness” within the Intellect. This urge and audacity (tolma) creates token souls and ultimately brings them to the utmost individuation: to an existence as embodied, individual human beings. Our home and origin is the intelligible universe, gazing closely at the One or God, yet becoming a human being with a personality, individual characteristics and body, as well as a place and task in the universe, unrelentingly ties us to the realm below perfection. Thus belonging to something high and perfect, without any individualizing characteristics, is contrasted with being an individual with one’s particular existence and personal features. Personality and individuality are understood as essential to our nature, yet connected with imperfection. The same move that makes us what we are, embodied individuals, creates problems for the human claim to truth, perfect goodness and paradigmatic unity. (pp.112-13)
The desire towards the source is awakened when there is a realization of separateness from wholeness and unity. Separateness is what awakens the individual, and as a result the ‘production’ acknowledges itself as a distinguishable thing. Says Remes: “The claim is that an entity becomes itself only through a reversion towards and a vision of its cause” (ibid. p.68).
Translated to modern psychological language, as long as personality cannot see itself as distinct from the Self, there is no true individuality. It is well-known that the neurotic personality, entertaining a “grandiose-exhibitionistic self-image”, must take defensive measures to protect the feeble ego. On the other hand, the strong and independent ego harbours a feeling of separateness from longed-for wholeness and unity. In religious thought, it is known as the longing for God or love of God.
In Plotinian thought, this is when ‘conversion’ takes place and ‘reversion’ (epistrophê
) ensues (cf. Plotinus, Enneads I.6.9.7–25). Individuation, that is, worldly generation of multiplicity, comes to an end and the philosopher begins the ascension to ‘the One’. It is accomplished through worldly denial (self-control, ascetic practices, prayer, etc.) and contemplation of the Platonic Forms (anamnêsis). Thus, in Plotinus’s days, the ideal of Self was transcendental, simple, and unitarian. (Notably, the Neoplatonists distinguish the self notion from notions of “human being” and “soul”.)
Plotinus and Porphyry regarded the soul as partly undescended, which means that the soul through its higher faculties has direct access to the ‘Nous’ —
the realm of Platonic Forms. Porphyry held that the true human Self is identical to the divine Nous. Their view that objects of knowledge are internal and innate to the soul gives rise to the famous Neoplatonic “inward turn”. The reversal of life is a turn inwards (cf. Remes, p.167).
Iamblichus (c.245–c.325 AD) took issue with this view and argued, against his teacher Porphyry (c.234–c.305 AD), that individuation may continue in parallel with reversion by means of theurgy. It is a creative ritual practice performed with the intention of evoking diverse divinities, which are prone to descend. It seems to compare with the theory around integration of archetypes, central to our present-day psychological form of individuation.
On this view, nature’s striving for wholeness, perfection, completeness and continuation becomes identified with its eternal Platonic origin at the top of the hierarchy. In other words, the horizontal striving of living beings becomes identified with vertical striving (cf. Remes, pp.8-9). In contrast to his teacher Porphyry, Iamblichus viewed the soul as wholly descended, that is, as wholly immanent. He also became an advocate of an immanent ideal of Self as opposed to the former transcendental ideal. Remes says:
[The] later Neoplatonists reject Plotinus’ doctrine of the unfallen part of the soul. For them, the human soul is entirely psychic, with no divine or unfallen parts. Thereby its perfection, too, is not assimilation to something foreign to itself, like the nous, but a psychic and human event. (p.185)
Rather than undertaking the upward journey to the gods, the theurgist must make preparations for the opposite to occur. The soul must be rendered pure and suitable for the god to enter. The lower gods (benign daimons that are prone to descend) may be received through theurgic means. The impersonal and transcendental ideal (as in Plotinus) lacks relevance to the theurgist, because God is per definition beyond reach. Instead, the ‘personal daimon’ (Lord of daimons) becomes his focus of attention. It gives rise to an individual ideal for each human being (cf. p.130). Iamblichus says:
It is the accomplishment of acts not to be divulged and beyond all conception, and the power of unutterable symbols, understood solely by the gods, that establishes theurgic union. (Iamblichus, “On the Mysteries of the Egyptians” [“De Mysteriis”], II.11, 96–7)
Iamblichus postulates an immanent version of the One, which he calls “the one of the soul” (‘to hen tês psuchês’). He also uses the term ‘helmsman’ (from Plato’s “Phaedrus”). It has a predecessor in Plotinus’s concept of the ‘we’ of the soul. Gregory Shaw says:
Iamblichus’s doctrine of the “one of the soul” provided important theoretical support for the practice of theurgy. Because the soul carried the presence of the One it had the capacity to rise above itself, be homologized to the cosmos and united with its divine cause. The fact that the soul possessed correspondences to the entire cosmos meant that, like the cosmos, it possessed a principle that preceded its multiplicity […]
[The] “helmsman” joined the disembodied soul to the supercelestial realm. Iamblichus said that the soul was capable of this unification “[because] there subsists in its very essence an innate knowledge (emphutos gnôsis) of the Gods” (DM 7, 13-14). (Shaw, 1995, p.118-19)
The “one of the soul” was ineffable and inaccessible to understanding. Its function was to coordinate the multiplicity of the soul, including the many attractions of embodied life, into a whole. As a consequence, the soul’s vertical ascent was determined by its horizontal extension (cf. p.121). Since a correspondence of the One is present in the psyche, it allows for the coalescence of the worldly and the spiritual. Shaw says:
[First], however, the soul had to coordinate its passions with material daimons. The affectations that enslaved the soul to daimons had to be purified and aligned with sunthêmata [symbolic tokens] in nature before the soul could reach the simpler and more unified levels of the gods. Without this collaboration with daimons the soul lacked the foundation necessary to homologize itself to the material gods. (ibid. p.155)
Iamblichus explains that despite the prima facie meaning of the term, invocations do not, in fact, “invoke” the gods or call them down. On the contrary, they “evoke” the divine sunthêmata lying in the human soul… (p.177)
The gods were mediated to the soul by means of sunthêmata and the goal was the integration of the psychic, which in a paradoxical way leads to henôsis with the noetic Father. Says Shaw:
Iamblichus explicitly states that the soul has only one ruling daimon and that he is good (DM 282, 1-5). To fulfill the charges of its guardian, however, the soul first had to recognize him and then develop a rapport […] The soul’s freedom from the daimon — like its freedom from the law — was determined, paradoxically, by its degree of identity with it. The daimon was not left behind but was, as it were, digested and incorporated by the theurgist. (ibid. pp.218-19)
Iamblichus’s embodied psychology has its modern counterpart in Carl Jung’s psychology and his notion of the ‘Self’ —
the archetype of wholeness transcending ego consciousness. Jung puts emphasis on the psychic Self, which approximates Iamblichus’s notion of “the one of the soul”. The Self is the symbol of multiplicity in unison, a ‘complexio oppositorum’. As it represents the goal of integration of personality, it demands active participation in the manifoldness of reality, which includes symbolic activity. Jung’s archetypal concept rhymes with Iamblichus’s notion of “the divine sunthêmata lying in the human soul”.
Jung took exception to trinitarian mysticism, which in the tradition of Porphyry searches to achieve ‘unio mystica’ by a direct route of worldly denial and contemplation. To Jung, it is crucial to acquire a wholeness of personality before allowing room for spiritual ambition. To achieve this, the integration of psychological complexes plays a central role. Failure to fulfil the requirement of psychological wholeness would lead to neurotic consequences. Interestingly, Shaw says that Iamblichus had a similar concept:
Noetic worship was useless without this foundation. Yet, in the view of Iamblichus, such premature noetic worship was being encouraged in Platonic schools, and Porphyry, his chief rival, was a prime example of one who attempted to short-circuit the material gods and daimons. Although Porphyry had spoken of his henôsis with the One, he was subject to severe bouts of depression, even to the point of suicide. Such emotions would suggest that Porphyry neglected to honor the god and daimons associated with his depression and thus failed to homologize himself to the material gods, gatekeepers of the immaterial gods and true union with the One […] From Iamblichus’s perspective Porphyry’s henôsis had to have been false: if someone were still dominated by worldly passions (e.g., suicidal depression), he could not presume to pass beyond the material gods […]
To reach the One, the soul had to be assimilated to the Whole, and this was accomplished only by honoring “all the gods” (ibid. pp.155-56)
[A]ccording to Iamblichus, the soul may return to the One only if it has been homologized to the All. The soul must first “see itself in all things” before it enters the immortal body measured by the gods. (ibid. pp.227-28)
It corresponds to Jung’s demand of integration of personality and emphasis on worldly adaptation. Yet, judging from the historical record, Porphyry has come out on top. His “Introduction” (to philosophy) remained the standard textbook on logic throughout the Middle Ages. Despite his strong critique of Christianity, Porphyry’s view of mystical ascent was adopted by the Christian mystics. The emphasis on rationality and contempt of superstition is still the leading star of Western science.
Moreover, Iamblichus severely underestimated the capacity of consciousness and logical reasoning. History has proved this wrong. In spite of all this, the Iamblichean paradigm (late Neoplatonism) has resurfaced in modern times, in the form of Carl Jung’s psychology.
The conclusion is that our view of the human Self, as well as our view of the spiritual path and man’s relation to existence, split into two competing paradigms before the onset of the Middle Ages. This conflict has still not been resolved. One could argue that Porhyry represents the spiritual, rational, and impersonal ideal whereas Iamblichus represents the psychological, individual, and this-worldly ideal.
Both paths, taken by themselves, are connected with serious difficulties. Iamblichus’s soteriological cult may easily degenerate into an unconscious form of pagan religiosity, such as fetish worship. Conversely, Plotinus’s model may sire a sterile intellectuality —
a form of elitism remote from worldly engagement. In “De Mysteriis”, Iamblichus criticizes it as a form of intellectual hubris (cf. Shaw, pp.240-41).
Iamblichus held that the goal of direct worship of the One came only “at the very end of life and to very few” (“On the Mysteries of the Egyptians” 230, 18-231, 1). Carl Jung said essentially the same; that the Self was really an unattainable goal. We are only able to approximate the complete wholeness of personality during lifetime.
The devoted spiritual searcher has good reason to argue that it is a defeatist standpoint. The immanent and psychological paradigm could be accused of making too much out of the “material gods”: before the soul may enter the immortal body it must be “homologized to the All”. It must “see itself in all things”. Allegedly, the spiritual pilgrim can only achieve this goal by “honouring all
the gods”. Arguably, this is overreaching oneself.
Much in the same way, constant horizontal expansion is at the heart of Jungian psychology. The “archetypal complexes” are focus of a ceaseless work of integration. Yet, the process will not, after all, lead to the goal of the Self.
What’s behind the theoretical and soteriological split is that the two models are mutually exclusive. It is not possible to combine Porphyry and Iamblichus to create a balanced model. However, should one remain devoted to either one, it is bound to give rise to problems; of the personal kind as well as the theoretical. Today, we can observe that Jungian psychology is bogged down by degenerate pagan and obsolete Freudian notions. The “material gods” have taken possession of the followers, while it should be the other way round.
To resolve this dilemma we are forced to regard both paradigms as true, despite the fact that they rely on discordant doctrines. Following the principle of complementarity, they may be viewed as complementary to each other. According to a complementarian view, either path is right up to a certain point, when it is time to change perspective. If correct, it’s not necessary to “honour all
the gods”. Rather, it suffices to become moderately integrated as a person, when it is time to adopt the vertical perspective of the divine.
Which shall be regarded the true human Self, Porhyry’s transcendental ‘Nous’ or Iamblichus’s psychic ‘helmsman’? In my view, it is necessary to entertain both models, since there are really two complementarian
aspects of the human Self. The Self is both vertical and horizontal; both impersonal and personal. However, since they are mutually exclusive there is no way that they can function simultaneously
as ideals in a person’s life. While both models of Self are complete in themselves, neither of them is quite sufficient to encompass the paradoxical nature of the Self. Either one of the two wholenesses is like a circle that isn’t quite closed.
The Self cannot be put in a nutshell. Thus, we must have recourse to two models of Self that are mutually exclusive. It follows the principle of complementarity defined by Niels Bohr, who applied it to the nature of light. So the Self has something in common with light. In order to get the whole picture, it is necessary to endorse both Porphyry and Iamblichus, even though the theoretical contradictions are insurmountable.
What is the consequence if personality remains unaware of the “origin” and therefore persists in an undifferentiated state? In that case it’s not possible to develop a true relation to society and to other people. The result is a “mass man” who adjusts himself to the collective, and he becomes part of the machine.
To such people, the ideal takes form as the totalitarian society. The group mind, which builds on collective identification, is an “anti-Self”.
The traditional notions of Self, the transcendental and the personal, are both effective in differentiating the individual from collective identity. As long as the individual is mindful of the Self, it is an effective remedy against projection and projective identification. As a consequence, the individual is less prone to project the Self on “great” personalities, such as Hitler, Mussolini, or Mohammed.
An awareness of a center of personality, whether immanent or transcendent, serves to promote psychic health because it alleviates our obsession with the outer world. Thanks to a heightened level of consciousness we may avoid horrors such as collectivism, war, as well as personal tragedies. To this end, it is necessary to acquire a
certain degree of wholeness.
The theory around the Self allows for many ways to improve one’s character.
The one-sided intellectual, for example, simply isn’t aware that his
feeling function is inferior and that it causes damage to relations. It
would suffice that he becomes aware of his inferiority and that he tries
to improve himself. In such case, a notion of the Self as the wholeness
of personality has a healing function.
History is full of brilliant
people that have gone under as a consequence of their one-sidedness.
Evariste Galois was a French mathematician, born in 1811. His work laid
the foundations for Galois theory and group theory of abstract algebra.
On account of his great mathematical talent he became arrogant and
haughty since he neglected other sides of personality and of learning.
He even had to repeat a class in school. Eventually, his inferior
function took over. Toward the end of his life he said: “My heart
revolted against my brain”. Despite this realization he died in a pistol
duel at only 20 years of age (cf. Hall, 1977, ch.1). What if he had had wholeness of
personality as ideal instead of worldly recognition? Then he would have
had time to make many more mathematical discoveries. Iamblichus’s notion that it’s necessary to take charge of one’s daimons has much to recommend it.
Divine dualism and soul dualism
Traditional societies often had two projective ideals of Self: the
medicine man and the king. Interestingly, Jung characterized Mussolini
as the king whereas he saw Hitler as personifying the shaman (medicine
man). Despite this dual definition of Self, Jung maintained that the
Self was one
. His ideal is akin to the spiritually enlightened king.
The shamanic Self, in the form of Jesus Christ, did not appeal to him.
Jung is adamant in his rejection of the
transcendental tradition, despite the fact that it has always had an enormous following in all parts of the world.
After all, Jesus was extremely otherworldly. He told people to get rid
of their money. They ought to give it back to the emperor, or to the
poor, and lead life like the birds, not worrying about tomorrow.
On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, and thus Jung saw it as an
incomplete image of Self. Instead he developed a ‘conglomerative’ ideal of
Self, much the same as Iamblichus’s doctrine. The Jungian Self is like a worldly king enveloped in pagan
spirituality. In pagan societies, such as the Celtic, the spiritual
realm was always nigh —
a view that runs counter to the Christian
transcendental view of spirit.
A conglomerative view of Self gives rise to a certain pagan naiveté, in
the way of New Age. Arguably, this is what underlies the process of
“romantification” during which the concept acquires qualities of a pagan
Yet, to lead life according to a chiefly
this-worldly ideal has damaging consequences, too. Jung’s Self is
paradoxical, antinomial, and ambivalent. In order to realize such an
ideal, the average individual is required to adopt a moral consciousness
of the primitive kind. He has to remain naive in order not to be torn
apart. So naive unconsciousness can save him. Yet this is damaging
because it paves the way for collectivism and a pagan regress. That’s
how I see it. Jung, however, thinks that heroic consciousness can sit
astride the ambivalent monster and control it. But the average
There is a serene and otherworldly Self of perfection, too, as well as a
reclusive way of individuation. Jung rightly finds that this ideal is
irreconcilable with the Self of completeness. His thinking is
essentially Hegelian, that is, it builds on the synthesis of opposites.
If thesis and antithesis cannot be combined in a synthesis (because they
are mutually exclusive), then either opposite must be wrong. So he
throws out the trinitarian Self.
However, complementarian thinking is profoundly anti-Hegelian, as
Arkady Plotnitsky (1994) explains. My argument is that this
is the right place to apply complementarian thinking. Both models are
true, and both are necessary to fully represent the phenomenon of the
Self. Thus we arrive at a complementarian model of the Self which
includes irreconcilable opposites, and not only dialectical opposites.
It stands to reason that a truly exhaustive model of the Self should
include both perfect man and complete man. Arguably, Jung’s Self ideal
does not provide the whole picture. In fact, there is in him an inner
conflict between the ideals of “complete man” and “spiritual man”, as
Jung’s dreams give evidence to (see below).
I hold that the partition of Self as shaman and
king ought to be preserved (cf. Winther, 2011, here
). The Self
is like the god Janus or the duplex Mercurius. On this view, the Christ
is indeed a complete image of Self. It must not be repudiated as an
incomplete or defective image. Rather, it represents the one out of two
adequate ideals of personality. Yet, while these ideals are both
beneficial, the conglomerative Self risks leading personality astray.
The conclusion is that the reclusive mystic, or the sequestered artist,
mustn’t be seen as pursuing an incomplete and defective ideal, in the
way of ‘imitatio Christi’. The Jungian notion of Self can be repaired by adding to it the notion of
a transcendental Self. It would relieve the pressure on the worldly Self
of completeness, which is overburdened. Not only does it represent the
demands of worldly adaptation as well as the integrative work on
personality, involving the withdrawal of projections and development of
consciousness. It also stands for spiritual development, which risks
taking a pagan turn.
The integration of the unconscious, combined with worldly engagement, is a
good enough investment. It suffices that “the king” partakes in religious ritual,
in whatever form (partaking of nature, for instance). He need not risk
his mental sanity by diving headlong into the unconscious, in the sense
of Jung’s own crisis. Such a crisis is likely to result from the
conflicting drives of the world and the spirit. It is impossible to
satisfy both these drives, to the utmost, at the same time.
In terms of a ‘complementarian Self’, the
spiritual and the worldly paths ought to be pursued consecutively, and
not at the same time. While following the worldly Self of completeness,
the spiritual path must remain formal, i.e., “religious”.
In Neoplatonism and in Gnosticism there were two primary gods: the One
(the Monad, etc.) and the Demiurge. (In Neoplatonism the Demiurge was a personification of the Nous —
the first hypostasis.
) The former was characterized by
unity, simpleness, and transcendence. The latter stood for multiplicity
and worldly generation. The Gnostics rejected the latter as evil whereas
the Neoplatonics saw worldly generation as a means to a higher end. One
may speculate that this dual perception of the divine reflects on two
irreconcilable aspects of human personality: one Self that strives
upwards and one Self that expands horizontally in the worldly realm.
The notion of “soul dualism” is well-known in comparative religion.
According to the ancient Chinese, every human being has a ‘hun’ soul
(“cloud soul”) and a ‘po’ soul (“white soul”/“moon soul”). The hun
belongs to the spiritual and heavenly Yang principle whereas the po
is an indwelling Yin spirit that makes it abode in the material and the
Among the Australian aborigines human beings have a dream-time soul that
may reincarnate. There is also a free soul that may become a malevolent
ghost. Protective measures may be required against the latter.
Amerindians believed in dual souls. The first of these is the “free
soul”, which might leave the body in a state of sleep or trance. The
second soul is the life-soul, i.e., a vegetative soul corresponding to
the ‘po’ of the Chinese. It was believed that the free soul travelled to
the afterworld, whereas the other was capable of reincarnation.
According to the Dogon of West Africa only the jackal (the trickster)
was created single. All the other beings, including the twin demiurges,
were created double. Humans beings have double souls, too. Human twins
become the object of a cult as soon as they are born, since they
manifest a divine principle.
Carl Jung’s dream
I do not know if it’s relevant to interpret soul dualism
in modern terms
as two incommensurate forms of wholeness, a worldly and spiritual. Yet, it seems that Jung’s dream about “kneeling before the highest presence” revolves around this very theme (cf. Jung, 1989, pp.217-220, excerpt
The dream featured a steep flight of stairs that ascended to a spot high up on the wall —
“which no longer corresponded to reality”. Here lived the faithful Uriah who had been murdered by order of King David.
Jung was compelled to bow down before “The Highest
Presence”, but he
never quite touches the floor with his head. His ego would remain defiant and
that’s why he is not doing it properly. In the dream he is portrayed as
“maliciously stupid” whereas his father, the clergyman, makes a
brilliant exegesis of a biblical passage. Evidently, Jung has
underestimated the message of the bible, which speaks in the voice of
the Ultimate God Image.
Arguably, his ego is equatable with King David, responsible for the
death of Uriah. Instead, sultan Akbar would come to occupy the centre of
the mandala. Yet, had he refrained from killing (repressing) Uriah (the
transcendent personality), then he would not have made the achievements
comparable to King David’s. It’s no wonder that his conscience is
plagued by his betrayal of Uriah and why the “play and counterplay”
between the two personalities has run through his whole life. It is the
same theme as King Oedipus who, in order to become king, kills his own
father. But, unlike Jung, his crime finally dawned on him. As he becomes
aware of his guilt, he bows down fully to the ground, covers himself in
ashes, and leads the rest of his life as a blind beggar.
The ‘via negativa’ and the transcendental form of mysticism is a central
theme in religion. Yet, Jung thinks that trinitarian tradition is
predicated on the trinity as an “incomplete wholeness”, and that’s why
it is simply wrong. But we might have to accept that there are two
discordant principles governing personality. Theology has two principles
at work, namely incarnation
. Jungian psychology
recognizes only one, namely incarnation. It corresponds to integration,
when the unconscious takes root in conscious reality. Psychology stands in need of a notion that corresponds to
apotheosis, which relates to the trinitarian Self. I have suggested the
term ‘complementation’ (cf. Winther, 2014, here
Part II: Modern concepts of Self
(1) Puerile Narcissism and (2) Primary Narcissism
1. The puer aeternus
Modern psychology has formulated concepts of Self building on observations of the neurotic personality. These have been appropriated as models for the sound personality; the difference being that the healthy mind lives them out to the full in a self-aware and informed way.
James Hillman (“Archetypal Psychology”) has adopted the ‘puer aeternus’ as ideal for personality. It is the eternal youth of fairy tale who lives in an eternal dream-state, resistant to growing up.
Whereas Marie-Louise von Franz
regards identification with the ‘puer aeternus’ as a neurosis belonging to the narcissistic spectrum, Hillman has argued that the puer
is not under the sway of a mother complex but that it represents a sound way of adaptation to life.
M-L von Franz
uses the notion ‘puer aeternus’ to denote
individuals that suffer from a puerile neurosis, in the same way as Freudian psychologists
connect the Oedipal complex with the “Oedipal personality”.
They generally do not like sports which require patience and long
training, for the puer aeternus, in the negative sense of the word, is
usually very impatient by disposition, so that such sports do not appeal
to them (von Franz, 2000, p.8).
A man who has a mother complex will always have to contend with his
tendencies toward becoming a puer aeternus (ibid. p.10).
Von Franz explains that the puer aeternus wants to hover above the earth, to get away from reality and from ordinary life. In general, the man who is identified with the archetypal adolescent remains too long in adolescent psychology. This is also how Hillman portrays the puerile ideal in his books:
The calling from the eternal world demands that this world here be turned upside down, to restore its nearness to the moon; lunacy, love, poetics […] A puer-inspired theory will also limp among the facts, even collapse when met with the questioning inquiries of so-called reality […] an archetypal psychology is obliged to show its own mythical premises… (Hillman, 1996, pp.282-83)
Hillman repudiates the Jungian notion of Self, claiming that it is an offshoot of Christian
theology, an expression of Jung’s monotheistic “theological
temperament”. Allegedly, the Jungian definition of Self “only reinforces individualism”. It makes you “stay indoors, off the streets, out of the party” (cf. Hillman, 1992, p.180). Instead, Hillman redefines the
Self as “the interiorization of community” (ibid. p.40). The ideal is to
become one with the collective. It follows from the puerile and unrealistic image of life as a grand “party”.
Hillman’s notion of the Self as the introjected image of the collective is antithetical to a notion of Self —
it’s an anti-Self that promotes
collectivism. According to M-L von Franz
this is also the consequence of the puerile ideal:
The strange thing is that it is mainly the pueri aeterni who are the
torturers and establish tyrannical and murderous police systems. So the
puer and the police-state have a secret connection with each other; the
one constellates the other. Nazism and Communism have been created by
men of this type. The real tyrant and the real organizer of torture and
of suppression of the individual are therefore revealed as originating
in the not-worked out mother complex of such men (von Franz, 2000, p.164).
Philosopher Paul Roubiczek (1968) has investigated the 19th century’s Romantic period —
the high point for the puer aeternus. He explains that Romantic
subjectivist delusion has propagated into the modern era and paved the way
for reactionary movements, such as Nazism. The fact that the Romantic idealists are
unconcerned with reality and ignore the actual world, has such
consequences. When reality is side-stepped and the
imagination of egoic consciousness takes precedence, it has dire political
The Romantics are so intoxicated by their discovery of the omnipotence
of the mind that, in other respects too, they will have nothing to do
with reality. It is not only that in their philosophical writings they
ignore the existing world, but that they always build up in their
imaginations a world as it should be, without considering in the least
whether this world of the imagination can be translated into reality.
“Imagination is the highest and most original faculty of man, and
everything else only reflection upon it” […]
This flight not only from necessity, but also from reality, is considered as the highest duty of man: […]
“the arbitrariness of the poet” must not acknowledge “any law above itself.” (Roubiczek, 1968, pp.69-75, here)
According to Roubiczek, Romanticism represents a “flight from necessity”, by which he
implies an escape from the coercive forces of life that can lead to a
mechanized and spiritless condition. He holds that it underlies the
overestimation of the power of consciousness and the flight from reality
into extreme individualism, which leads to an equally extreme
materialistic reaction in the collectivistic ideologies of the 20th century.
Roubizcek’s views are substantiated by later research in Romanticism. Ira Livingston
As such, Romanticism is allowed to emerge and mutate with capitalism
and modernity, assuming various avatars — for example, in Fascism and
Nazism (with their militantly nostalgic appeals to a prealienated,
organic society), in modernist “culturism” (where culture is located as
the privileged site of resistance to commodification)… (p.11).
The aestheticism of Hillman and the Romantics implies that egoic consciousness dresses up in the beautiful mythological clothes of the puer aeternus.
It’s evident from the following excerpt from ‘The Oldest System Programme of German Idealism’:
We must have a new mythology, but this mythology must be in service of
the ideas; it must be a mythology of reason. Before we make ideas
aesthetic, i.e. mythological, they will have no interest for the people.
(Beiser, 1995, p.5)
If mythology lacks its roots in the unconscious, it is
chimerical and merely the products of a short-circuited ego
Nazi mythology was created in this way —
conscious political ideas
were subjected to mythologization and were made to comply with Aryan
aesthetic ideals. Thus, a false mythology of one-sided and quixotic
consciousness served to foil the true unconscious spirit. In this way, mythology was put in
the service of destructive and megalomaniacal consciousness.
It exemplifies how Romanticism and phenomenological idealism has put the
cart before the horse, as they portray consciousness as the wellspring
of myth. This is the Romantic fallacy: to dress up conscious ideas in mythic language. J.G. Fichte is the founder of the Jena
school of Romanticism. His notion of the primacy of the self, i.e. that
the ego is world-creating, is at the root of the Romantic movement, according to which mythic and
poetic consciousness is to replace the Cartesian scientific worldview. Romantic philosophy has its modern successors
in postmodernism and in phenomenological philosophy (Heidegger, Husserl,
etc.). Post-structuralism, which underlies much of today’s societal discourse, implies that “truth” is merely the conscious structures that we have chosen to impose on reality. It gives rise to an extreme form of relativism. Thinkers of this ilk are impervious to arguments that rely on hard facts. The Romantic paradigm has destructive moral consequences.
Nicholas Mason says:
At the heart of the Romantic project, Campbell explains, are two
interconnected impulses: to seek pleasure and to imagine future
pleasures. Not surprisingly, then, when Romanticism gained cultural
preeminence in the late eighteenth and early Consumer Culture nineteenth
centuries, heeding these impulses became increasingly socially
acceptable, nowhere more so than in the marketplace. What resulted was
“a distinctively modern form of pleasure-seeking,” a sort of
“autonomous, self-illusory hedonism.” In contrast to traditional
hedonism, which turns to material goods to alleviate life’s discomforts,
modern Romantic hedonism produces an endless series of imagined desires,
none of which once attained offers more than fleeting pleasure. Hence,
the modern consumer-cum-hedonist “is continually withdrawing from
reality as fast as he encounters it, ever-casting his day-dreams forward
in time, attaching them to objects of desire, and then subsequently
‘unhooking’ them from these objects as and when they are attained and
experienced.” (Klancher, 2009, pp.197-98)
The Romantic mythopoetic worldview continued into modern times. The negation of individuation (i.e., to remain in boyhood) must needs lead to an immersion in the collective, with the consequence that the individuative demand is projected on the spirit of the collective, as in Hegel’s philosophy.
2. Primary narcissism
According to Freud’s theory (1914), in the beginning, all of the infant’s libido is invested in the ‘self’ and libidinal attachment to the surrounding (‘object-cathexis’) has not yet occurred. Freud refers to this as ‘primary narcissism’. Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut developed Freud’s stage of primary narcissism to paradigmatic status as underlying our
notion of self. The archaic configuration of primary narcissism —
the ‘grandiose Self’ and the idealized parent image —
is moulded into a well-adapted sense of self with sound self-esteem and a set of mature goals, values and ideals (cf. Leeming, 2010, p.608).
It means that the stage of primary narcissism will always remain in the background and that the mature personality is merely an improved version of the archaic Self. In this model, the original and grandiose Self (which personality longs to reunite with) is not properly detached as in the Neoplatonic model. Rather, the individual remains attached to it as if by an umbilical cord. The notion has gathered numerous followers in both the Freudian and Jungian school.
The problem is that the classical theory of primary and secondary narcissism is today
regarded as obsolete by most authors on the subject. Otto Kernberg
(1975, ch.10) says that
the concept of primary narcissism (love of self which precedes loving
others) is no longer justified, because libidinal object-investment and
primary self-investment of libido go hand in hand. From a
metapsychological perspective, they are wholly coincident. Therefore
it’s improper to say that all psychological motivation is ultimately
based on narcissism. The notion of primary narcissism is regarded as
obsolescent, whereas adult narcissistic strategy is viewed as a form of
lingering and deep-rooted immaturity, sometimes dependent on hereditary
It’s easy to see that the Freudian notion of
primary narcissism is faulty because it builds on the idea of the
child’s narcissistic self-investment in a private ego
, which however
remains undeveloped —
a self-refuting idea. However, theories that center upon primary narcissism actually reckon with an innate self, subsisting in the uterus —
a ‘uterine Self’.
The problem is that it relates a pathological picture of human
psychology. Certain Freudians authors, most notably Heinz Kohut and Donald W. Winnicott,
claim that normal human psychology is narcissistic and that normalcy is
merely a form of mitigated narcissism. Winnicott says that the normal
human personality moves back and forth between omnipotence and the
aggressive destructive urge; back and forth between symbiosis and
alienation. The reason why Jung’s model does not relate this picture,
Winnicott claims, is because Jung suffered from a severe pathology since
childhood (cf. Winther, 2003, here
In classic Jungian psychology the narcissistic dynamic (eminently portrayed by Winnicott) is a pathological condition. According to Nathan Schwartz-Salant,
a merger of ego functions and archetypal dynamics —
narcissistic character. It corresponds to what in alchemy is called a
‘premature coniunctio’ —
a monstrosity. It has a strong defensive quality
and lacks the numinosity of the Self in Jungian terms. The narcissistic
character instead carries a forced, power-oriented, copy. In fact, the
subject is forced to defend against the numinosity of the Self. As a
power far superior, it could easily defeat the grandiose identity. It is
crucial to understand that the narcissistic character not only defends
against outer object relations, but equally against the inner world of
archetypal reality. Both are a great threat. The subject is in fear of
the Self because the Self is always a defeat for the ego, especially in
the event of a grandiose ego-Self merger (cf. Schwartz-Salant,
On this view, the ego and the ‘grandiose Self’ remain a conjugate pair. Comparatively, according to the Jungian view, the ego remains distinct from the Self, which is
a time-transcendent goal for personality. There is a sense of the Self
as an inner, guiding centre whose energies can manifest symbolically.
Jung maintains that when this healthy condition no longer applies, and
the ego gets assimilated to the Self, a mystical, dreamlike state
ensues. The subject feels he is immersed in a space-time continuum that
is characteristic of the unconscious as such. Secondly, the Self may
become assimilated to the ego. This also results in inflation, as the
world of collective consciousness is overvalued (cf. Jung, 1979,
par.45-47). Studies of narcissistic pathology have shown that, in many a
case, there is a pendulum movement between the two conditions.
Theorists of primary narcissism postulate a variable bond between ego and Self (which are regarded as essentially the same). Erich Neumann introduces the ‘ego-Self axis’ (see below), symbolic of an umbilical cord between ego and Self.
In case of a static bond, the ego would become
assimilated to the Self, or vice versa, which in either case leads to
severe pathological consequences. Against this, Jung’s picture of the
relation is like a planet circulating around the sun. The relation is
best portrayed by a movement of ‘circumambulation’, and not by a static
link, because the Jungian Self is not stationary. It is not a person
with a fixed personality and therefore cannot uphold such a relation. Since it
is kaleidoscopic it can only be grasped by circulating around it.
This is reminiscent of Iamblichus’s view, who said that the soul’s ideal form was spherical, and it must be moved circularly. Shaw says:
To move in a circle was to embrace at once the contraries of embodied life, and the translation of the theurgist to his aetheric body was manifest by his symptoms in the generated world: the apatheia [equanimity] and ataraxia [tranquility] of a sage whose will revealed the will of the gods. (Shaw, p.92)
Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann (1905–1960), who drew on Freud, translates primary narcissism to ‘uroboric
incest’ and claims that adults have a tendency to revert to the primal
condition. The movement in the other direction (ego-formation) is termed
‘centroversion’. Thus, it is obsolete Freudian thought that
underlies Neumann’s notion of an ego-Self axis, and the movement to-and-fro.
This is essentially the same as all the other theories who view
primary narcissism and ‘ego-Self fusion’ as central. Neumann employs the term ‘uroboric Self’ for the prenatal grandiose Self.
The image of an ego-Self axis is relevant to Winnicott’s and
Kohut’s theories, which elevate narcissism as normal and where normalcy
and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are merely the extremes along the ‘ego-Self axis’. Yet, in normal psychology there is no attachment between Self and
ego. The Self is sensed and intuited and we circulate around it like the
earth around the sun. The relation is like in ancient times, when people
made offerings and did prayer to their god. It is an attitude
characterized by humbleness. The notion of a constant and permuting
relation between ego and Self is preposterous (and even sacrilegious). The ego-Self axis has also been appropriated by Jungian psychologist Edward F. Edinger (see also: Winther, 1999, here
Neumann’s notion conflicts with the Jungian and Neoplatonic view of the Self. The
ego-Self is portrayed as one system with two poles, which elongates and
contracts. Since the ego is seen as an “offshoot” of the Self, the two
will always remain “connected”. As a consequence, the ego experiences
itself as “numinous”. Neumann emphasizes that the ego and the Self are not essentially different from
each other. What’s more, unlike Jung who speaks of an ego complex,
Neumann distinguishes between “mere ego” as a false experience and the ego-Self
as a “true experience” (cf. Kron, 2013; vid. Neumann, 1989).
In order to accommodate his notions within
Jungian theory, it necessitates that Neumann throws out the whole
Jungian edifice and introduces something akin to quantum field theory.
The partition conscious-unconscious is not central anymore. Instead
reality consists of three different ‘fields’. The ego is no longer viewed
as a complex and the Self has lost its status as archetype —
it is a
field. Self and ego are melded in a relation lacking mediating function
(‘tertium non datur’ —
no third is given).
In my view, it is a great strength that Jungian psychology maintains its
roots in the Platonic and animistic worldview. At least some of the root
system is planted in the age-old soil. It is of great value that theory
speaks the same language as the unconscious, which entertains “naive”
notions. It means that Jungian theory speaks partly in images, as does
the unconscious. Neumann’s abstract conception, on the other hand, lacks
all poetic sense. Allegedly, he builds on phenomenological idealism as
well as the existentialism of Martin Buber (in my regard, a wholly incomprehensible
author). To this is added the obsolete Freudian notion of primary
narcissism as central driving force.
Neumann’s theoretical edifice is a strange and abstract construct for which he received harsh
criticism at the Psychological Club in Zurich. M-L von Franz
has refuted his “Amor and Psyche”, since it is
really about the anima
of the author and not about female psychology.
Somewhat surprising for a Jungian, he hails Sigmund Freud as the
greatest psychologist ever. In his books “The Great Mother” and “The
Origins and History of Consciousness” his strange notions are hidden behind a
discussion around the ego’s attachment to the Mother in infantile
Later, he reveals that the Mother is really the Self, to which the ego
always remains attached. Neumann’s analysis suffers from the fact that
he views the mythic struggling heroes as “egos”, that is, real persons. In
fact, they are really archetypes that attempt to escape from the
unconscious “Mother” in order to take root in the conscious world (which is similar to the Neoplatonic interpretation). In
“The Interpretation of Fairy Tales” (1996), M-L von Franz
has criticized the
personalistic method of interpretation practiced by Neumann and certain
Michael Fordham (1905–1995) says that the
child, from the very beginning, is psychologically its own individual.
The Self is a totality present at birth, that is, the child has a
preformed personality. Fordham’s model of infant psychology builds on
Freud’s notion of primary narcissism. The child is
regarded psychologically as a self-contained individual, rather than
being at one with the mother. It means that the small child can be
treated as a unit separate from its parents. From a primary narcissistic
condition (libidinal self-investment in “myself”) ‘individuation’
proceeds in the way of ‘deintegration and
reintegration’ (a dynamic that is characteristically neurotic). Fordham has also repudiated the notion of the Self as an ‘archetype’ (cf. Jacoby, 1991, p.55ff).
In Fordham’s model, the ego must “deintegrate” from the Self in order to
come into being. From a classic standpoint, it would actually mean that the child must leave its unity with “God”
(the Self is symbolic of the divine) to inaugurate ego development —
a bizarre notion. It gives rise to the
characteristic narcissistic dynamic I mentioned earlier, namely
‘deintegration’ and ‘reintegration’ along an ego-Self axis. It is a
pathological model, essentially the same as used by Winnicott, Edinger, and Neumann.
Fordham’s ‘reintegration’ (libidinal self-investment) corresponds to Neumann’s term ‘uroboric incest’ whereas his ‘deintegration’ (ego-formation) corresponds to Neumann’s ‘centroversion’. Fordham appropriates the term ‘primary Self’ for the uterine condition of personality (the ‘uroboric Self’ in Neumann). Says Jacoby:
In his view infants give every observer a feeling for which the
expression narcissism is very appropriate. “He (the infant) seems
self-contained, self-centered or somehow whole and, one might say, in
love with himself” (Fordham, 1976:50). But for a variety of reasons
Fordham prefers the idea of a primary self to the concept of primary
narcissism. (ibid. p.55)
So let’s look at how Fordham arrives at his conclusions.
Jacoby explains that Fordham sees the “feeding situation” as a
disturbance of the babies unity and that this represents the principle
of ‘deintegration’. Says Jacoby:
Once the infant’s need for food, body contact, and warmth has been
gratified, the process of reintegration resumes; the infant becomes once
again content, self-contained, and slowly goes back to sleep. This is a
simple example of those processes in which parts deintegrate from the
self and then reintegrate with it once again […] Hence deintegration
makes possible the “life experience” that serves the purposes of
differentiation and maturation; this experience is then reintegrated
into the self. Deintegration and reintegration are thus the basis of
maturational processes that are organized in the self. (ibid. pp.55-56)
So Fordham has extrapolated the instinctual functions of feeding and
sleeping and given it central status, namely that of psychological life
characteristic of adulthood. He claims that this repeated pattern of
‘deintegration’ and ‘reintegration’ is the same as individuation. What’s
more, Fordham projects a narcissistic form of self-contentment on the
Needless to say, such theoretical cerebration around fundamental
instinct is completely unfounded. He certainly hasn’t asked the child if
it is “in love with himself”; he only says that it “seems” so. This
phenomenon, in psychological parlance, is known as “projection”.
I question if such chockingly inferior theory could be produced by a
healthy mind, even of the lowest intellectual capacity. I hold that such
superficial thought can only be produced by the neurotic personality. A
normal person would feel ashamed of saying such things. The incapacity
of questioning themselves, on the other hand, is characteristic for the
neurotic personality with a narcissistic bent.
Nevertheless, such people always gather a great following, which is a
phenomenon that ought to be better analyzed. The neurotics is one thing,
but what about their following? It is not only the branch of psychology
that suffers corruptive consequences. It affects the whole of society.
Technical projects often run aground on account of a neurotic individual
whose contributions cannot be questioned. So why can’t people speak up
against inferior thinking and corrupted individuals? Somebody ought to
analyze the phenomenon of “the elephant in the room” that nobody
pretends to see.
We should also take note of the fact that Fordham’s clinical experience
and his case studies of children had no rectifying effect whatsoever on
the theoretical work he was doing. It did not bring him closer to the
truth. There is a misconception in the psychotherapeutic community about
how science is made. It is seen as a way of “making observations” that
shall serve as basis for hyperbolic induction. It bears a similarity to
the method of Aristotle (disregarding his cerebral advantage).
Fordham had observed children with his own eyes, a fact that he prided himself on while he believed that he was doing “science” proper. But it’s evident that he had no
grasp of empirical science and what it stood for. The following example
is Fordham’s version of doing science. He relates a case of a 2-1/2-year-old girl who
was sitting on his lap drawing a picture:
The earlier scribbles had been aggressive, and I had concluded that her
apparent acquiescence had been under secret protest; it was only when
the circle appeared, however, that her ego could express itself in
action. It seemed to represent the statement that my power had become
neutralized and that there was now a magical boundary between herself
and me which made her position safe; no aggression from me was now
possible […] for the child must have seen me as a danger — I would not
have pressed her to scribble had she not acquiesced. The danger was due
to a projection of “soul”, in this case the father imago. (Fordham, 1957, p.135)
It is surprising what Fordham can see in the soul of the child, as if she
were an open book. But this is just an anecdotal event that lacks
scientific value. His interpretation is a mere projection and those
scribbles could be interpreted in many different ways. He chooses, not
surprisingly, to interpret the circle in terms of ‘deintegration’. The
mandala shape has thus acquired a wholly different meaning than in
Jungian psychology and in religious tradition. It could just as well
mean that she has repossessed her calm. It could mean anything.
have no scientific value at all.
There is a misconception among psychotherapists about how science is
produced. Just making observations about patients doesn’t produce theory
around psychic laws. The theory of gravity wasn’t produced by gathering
scientific data about how apples and pears fall to the ground.
Experimental physicists do not produce theory —
they only try and verify
theories. If they make new findings, they generally leave it to the
theorists to work it out. We cannot develop new theory in the way
clinicians tend to do, making both erratic and far-reaching conclusions
from a set of case studies.
The way in which psychoanalysts have misconstrued empirical science has
had a very damaging effect. There is a strange misconception that
empirical scientific research implies making observations that will
automatically produce scientific results, as if it suffices to gather
experimental data and theory will grow out of it like a tree. It doesn’t
work that way. This view is strengthened by Erich Fromm (1982). He has observed that many
‘psychologists’ expect that theories will develop out of the activity of
collecting empirical facts. He says that this view of science is very
primitive and is long ago abandoned among the hard sciences.
Children do not emerge out of feelings of omnipotence. If they had been
identical with the Self, they would have had the consciousness of Jesus Christ and had made the most wondrous statements. But they don’t —
say silly and naive things. Babies, as soon as they emerge, are very
relational. Their attitude is not at all narcissistic, because they are
very much into the interplay of “I and you”.
In fact, the ego emerges out of the unconscious earth, like a plant that
grows. There is no ready-made complete personality in the image of God
Almighty from the beginning. Ego-development transpires much like the
story of Narcissus: the archetype enters the realm of consciousness and
becomes self-aware. It takes root in consciousness as a function of the
ego. Should any of the Greek muses suffer the same tragic fate, then the
subject is destined to become a musician or poet.
It depends on both environmental and innate factors. The synthetic
function of consciousness ensures that the acquired functions are
experienced as belonging to “me”. Should we have a ready-made
personality from the beginning, then it leaves no room for environmental
influence or chance. We cannot become either
a musician or an
intellectual. Yet, we know that a great variety of minor gods can land
in reality, especially if a certain development is stimulated in the
The ego is that which happens to take root in consciousness. Yet,
Fordham gets it backwards: consciousness takes root in innate
personality (the primary Self) by way of a process of deintegration. I
hold that it is wholly implausible and depends on a projection onto the
child of a neurotic state of affairs.
The Self in the “ego-Self axis” is not the real Self; it is a false copy
known as the grandiose-exhibitionistic self. Characteristic of the narcissistic personality is a
strong sense of entitlement. They believe they are entitled to
everything good in life. It is a form of severe egocentrism coupled with
a controlled form of megalomania. Of course, people who suffer from an
egoic obsession, or any form of obsession, is at times overtaken with an
urge to get rid of their problem in one stroke, especially if they have
failed in their grandiose endeavour. At least, they might drench
themselves in alcohol and get rid of themselves temporarily.
Evidently, many theorists have substituted the grandiose-exhibitionistic
self for the Jungian definition of Self. What is behind this
development? Presumably, they have identified their own experience of
grandiosity with Jung’s notion of Self. “Aha, this is what Jung means by
Yet, normal and well-balanced people do not experience an egocidal urge. Nor
do they experience a feeling of grandiosity or of being the centre of
the universe. The edifices of Winnicott, Neumann, Kohut, Fordham and
Edinger, lack relevance to normal psychology, but are characteristic of
the neurotic psyche.
The experience of the true Self is quite different —
it is transcendental
and detached. It is the sense of wholeness that can be experienced in
the same that St John of the Cross experienced when he sat in
deep contemplation listening to the purling brook. It is the feeling of
oneness with the whole of existence when time stands still —
that can be conjured by focusing and writing about the divine presence.
There is nothing threatening about this presence —
it is like floating in
a tropical sea. However, it is also a presence that may trip the subject
up sometimes, because it demands more attention. Especially in dreams
the call of the Self is heard. The normal personality lacks
that instability of moving to-and-fro between ‘deintegration’ and
‘reintegration’ with the “Self”. There is no identification at all.
There is only a longing for the “Elysian fields”.
The classic Jungian edifice better approximates normal psychology.
However, I have argued that it is deficient since it is missing the
transcendental part —
St John’s view of Self.
Is it the personality experiencing stability and a spiritual
contentment with life (despite life’s hardships) that shall serve as
theoretical model for normality? Or is it the people who experience
grandiosity and then give way to self-laceration in a repeated pattern?
The neurotic theorist elevates his own pattern as characteristic of
normalcy. The reason for its notoriety is that scholars who reach
prominence are often driven by worldly ambition, which is generative of
the neurotic pattern. Comparatively, the normal person is moderately
detached from the worldly.
It is high time to get rid of the neurotic ideal of personality, because
it is evil. Therapists who subscribe to the destructive and regenerative
ideal become vassals of evil. Winnicott argued that the patient needed
to be “destroyed” in order to invoke the symbiotic and destructive cycle
in the patient. As a consequence, many of them committed suicide.
The Self as archetype
The Self is the wholeness to which the ego gravitates after midlife, when the Self becomes the ideal
of the ego. The Self is the goal
of personality, but it is not the origin.
Yet, Jung has contradicted himself by saying:
“The self, like the unconscious, is an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves. It is, so to speak, an unconscious prefiguration of the ego” (Jung, 1969, par.391).
It seems that this notion turns Jungian theory upside-down.
A possible explanation for this statement is Jung’s “theological temperament”. Since
the Lord says that he is alpha and omega (Revelations), Jung must also
say so about the Self. Thus, since Jung’s Self is wholly immanent and psychic,
the ‘alpha’ would also be immanent. Yet, in the Christian and
Neoplatonic conception, the ‘alpha’ would represent the transcendental wholeness and
unity (the One) that precedes cosmic creation. It is in all respects
In order to repair the Jungian conception of Self, which is one-sidedly immanent, we may reinstate the
transcendental aspect of Self as complementary.
It would forestall misconceptions such as an immanent “alpha Self”. The
Self as “unconscious prefiguration of the ego” gives the impression that
the ego emerges out of the Self, which cannot be right. In that case,
little children have an egoic power far surpassing that of adults, since
the adult ego crumbles in face of the Self.
Central to Jungian theory is that archetypes constellate
from an organizing principle that initially lies dormant. The Self has typically constellated by midlife whereas the anima
(archetype of the feminine) constellates
earlier. Neoplatonism had a similar notion of organizing principles or reason-principles, called logoi
(cf. Remes, p.57). These were essentially instantiations in the soul of Platonic Forms, including the mathematical objects. Shaw says:
[The “divine symbols”] remained inactive until awakened in theurgy. Thus, when the logoi that constitute the soul’s essence were ritually appropriated and awakened in the life of the soul, these logoi could then be called sumbôla or sunthêmata. (Shaw, p.165)
So here is a notion similar to the constellation of the archetype from the archetype-as-such
The notion of a pre-constellated Self, out of which the ego
emerges, doesn’t make sense. How is that supposed to occur? Such a
notion doesn’t square with a biological worldview. For what purpose has
evolution equipped babies with a complete personality that is manifest
already from the beginning? Nor could Jung have meant that the Self is
the archetypal seed from which the ego constellates. It would imply that
the ego and the Self are the same thing, which contradicts the
definition of the Self.
According to the scientific worldview, everything emerges from the
unconscious earth, which is essentially mathematical relations. There is
no image of an oak inside an acorn. There is a molecular program for
growth that gives rise to an oak, i.e., from which the oak slowly
In a similar manner, the individual termite is programmed to do his little job,
which is easily defined. It consists of a few instructions (in case of
‘this’ do ‘that’). That’s all he knows. He isn’t aware of any greater
structures. Nevertheless, the combined actions of the termites give rise
to a remarkable complexity in the form of a termite mound. The
phenomenon is called “swarm intelligence”.
The termites divide labour among castes, which all have their own little
responsibilities. The cooperative effect is such that it gives rise to
remarkable sophistication. Human engineers have studied the
sophisticated air-conditioning system in termite mounds, which involves
an underground spiral cone that leads cold air upwards. It is suitable
for implementation in tenement buildings in warmer climates.
Nevertheless, the individual termite isn’t aware of such sophisticated
However, should the termites be capable of mentation, we can be certain
that they would entertain notions of “building a temple to God”, etc.
The conical spiral (seashell) would have been regarded as numinous. In
such case, an archetype has constellated in their psyche.
Complexity is produced from very simple rules. The Mandelbrot set
produced by plotting, in the complex plane, an iterative function where
C is a complex number (it means that the new value of z, to the left, is
always produced from the former value of z).
zt+1 = zt² + C
The above function gives rise to images such at these, by zooming in on
An endless array of simple rules can be plotted in the complex plane
(where the imaginary value is in units of i
, that is, the imaginary
number). Another example of fractal imagery is the Julia set
(vid. Gleick, 1987).
This is how all of the remarkable complexity of nature is created —
simple rules (the logoi
of nature). It is easy to see that the fractal images are relevant to
the theory of archetypal constellation. As far as we know, nothing is
pre-constellated in nature. In biology, the theory of preformationism
(the homunculus theory
, etc.) is obsolete. We have no need for notions
of preformationism in psychology, because modern complexity theory has
shown that advanced structure and sophisticated order may constellate
from the smallest of seeds.
Scholars of antique philosophy have sufficient knowledge about psychology to make the conclusion that Plotinus resorts to a notion of the “unconscious”. I have shown that also their concept of Self accords with a modern Jungian view.
The therapy of the soul was central to Neoplatonism. Unlike its Christian counterpart, Platonic salvation is primarily a personal matter. There is “a commitment to the psychological as an irreducible explanatory category” (Remes, 2008, p.3).
The way in which Porphyry and Iamblichus use the term “symbol” also coincides with Jungian use. Proclus takes pains to refute the mimetic and representational view of art and claims that the highest type of inspired poetry is the “symbolic” type. Symbolic poetry has soteriological power and is an inspired vehicle of divine truth. Material, verbal and literary ‘symbols’ render invisible entities into visible form (cf. Struck, 2004, ch.7).
Sometimes the gods are represented as doing impious things. Peter Struck says that “Proclus consistently invokes these infamous scenes as examples of the poets’ greatest achievements. They are proofs of their inspired, hyperrational wisdom” (ibid. p.242). Struck explains that “[the] ‘symbol’ is consistently Proclus’s term for that language that defies the prohibition against speaking the unspeakable” (p.244).
Already in this early period, the symbolic unconscious and a sound view of personality had already taken root. Would that the concept of the Self always stood on sound Neoplatonic ground! Aren’t Jungian psychologists throwing the golden child out with the bathwater when they refuse to acknowledge the Neoplatonic connection?
© Mats Winther, 2015 January.
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