The Upward and Downward Paths of the Spirit

Cautes and Cautopates flanking the Mithraic tauroctony
Cautes and Cautopates flanking the Mithraic tauroctony.
Their torches point upward and downward, respectively.

Abstract: Psychology has a focus on the integration of the unconscious — the process is regarded essential to the individuation, development, and emancipation of personality. The article argues that this view is one-sided. In order to achieve a balanced view of the Self it is necessary to restore the traditional view of spiritual development, representing the path “upwards” toward divine union (henosis ). Projections of the unconscious archetype do not only serve the purpose of psychological integration — in terms of Neoplatonism they may also serve as vehicles for spiritual ascent.

Keywords: projection, Neoplatonism, Trinity, archetype, individuation, Dionysus, Zagreus, Cusanus, Iamblichus, coincidentia oppositorum, C.G. Jung.


The integration of the unconscious is not possible without projection. Integration is arguably the most central principle in psychology, even more important than the archetypal notion. Projection always precedes integration, the latter signifying conscious assimilation; the unconscious content becomes an integral part of conscious thought and feeling. Notably, Freudian transference theory [1] is different in that introjection follows upon projection. According to Freud, external behavioural patterns become formative of the subjective psychic constitution. Accordingly, introjection leads to the formation of ego and superego. On this view, therapy might lead to the projection of the Father imago onto the therapist. It is subsequently introjected into the patient, and the patient is then governed by a new Father imago. He has been “reprogrammed” as it were. On this Freudian view, the patient is like an unconscious robot that has been endowed with an improved software.

Not only Jungian psychologists, but also Gestalt therapists have rejected the notion of treating adults like they were unconscious children. In Gestalt therapy, the focus is on conscious “assimilation” whereas introjection is generally viewed as a return to a similar unconscious condition as before. It only risks becoming a new blockage, in the form of a new identification. The Jungian notion of integration implies taking charge of oneself. The assimilation of complexes will turn the latter into problems of consciousness. There are two types of people: those with unconscious complexes and those who carry conscious problems that they wrestle with. The latter condition is ideal, to carry one’s own cross instead of projecting the shadowy unconscious on others. Also in Gestalt therapy, and in Poul Bjerre’s psychosynthesis, emphasis is put on “personal responsibility”.

Whereas transference is a central concept in Freudian psychology (as it serves the purpose of “downloading a new software into the human robot”), it is not so in Jungian psychology. The patient already has recourse to a multitude of projections ripe for integration. There is no need to create new ones. Projection occurs, for instance, when we take notice of a painting that carries meaning. Projection is a fact of nature. Since everything unconscious is projected, it is ever-present. Without it, most people would lack the motivation to rise from their bed in the morning.

Integration is essential to the maturational process. The method of conscious realization is indispensable for becoming a responsible individual who no longer puts blame on other people for his own faults. Nevertheless, I contend that the centrality of conscious integration in Jungian psychology is one-sided. There are archetypal projections, in the sense of unconscious numinous content, that have no place in the abstract and two-dimensional realm of consciousness. Psychological development revolves around a formula of projection followed by integration. In fact, there is also a movement in the other direction, i.e. toward a healthy and spiritual form of unconsciousness. Comparatively, in Neoplatonism, the soul strives to rise back towards unity, which is the original source of worldly multiplicity. The turn inwards (epistrophê ) results in the “ascent” (anabasis, anodos ) towards ‘the One’. In the third century, Porphyry (c. 234-c. 305) took Iamblichus (c. 245-325) to task. Against the former’s charge of naïveté, regarding the notion that gods are indwelling in material things, Iamblichus answered that matter is “illuminated” by the divine:
[D]ivinity illumines everything from without, even as the sun lights everything from without with its rays. Even as the sunlight, then, envelops what it illuminates, so also does the power of the gods embrace from outside that which participates in it. And similarly, even as the light is present in the air without blending with it […], even so the light of the gods illuminates its subject transcendently, and is fixed steadfastly in itself even as it proceeds throughout the totality of existence. (“De Mysteriis”, I.9, Clarke, 2003, p.39)
Iamblichus explains that by means of images the “eyes of the soul” clothe the gods in an interior space. Already in the fifth century, Proclus (412-485) arrives at a seemingly modern view of archetypal projection:
The Gods themselves are incorporeal, but since those who see them possess bodies, the visions which issue from the Gods to worthy recipients possess a certain quality from the Gods who send them but also have something connatural (sungenês) with those who see them. This is why the Gods are seen yet not seen at all. In fact, those who see the Gods witness them in the luminous garments of their souls (augoeidê tôn psuchôn periblemata). The point is, they are often seen when the eyes are shut. Therefore, since the visions are extended and appear in this different kind of “atmosphere” they are connatural with those who see them. However, because visions emit divine light, possess effectiveness, and portray the powers of the Gods through their visible symbols, they remain in contact with the Gods who send them. This is why the ineffable symbols of the Gods are expressed in images and are projected sometimes in one form, sometimes in another […]
   Each God is formless (amorphotos) even if he is seen with a form. For the form is not in him but comes from him due to the incapacity of the viewer to see the formless without a form; rather, according to his nature he sees by means of forms. (Proclus, “Commentary on Plato’s Republic”, I.39, transl. Shaw, 1995, pp.220-21)
Descent and ascent

Iamblichus held that descent into worldly plurality (provided that one has recourse to theurgical practice) leads to the integration of opposites, which would bring about apotheosis (spiritual ascent). Through the purifying light given by the gods in theurgy (‘divine work’) the embodied soul was freed of its particularity and established in its starry vehicle (cf. Shaw, 1995, p.52). Iamblichus’s notion is similar to the Jungian realization of the Self by means of projection and integration. Individuation, which means the separation from collectivity and the formation of individual personality, is somehow identical to the overcoming of particularity in the manifestation of the Self. It is paradoxical, indeed, because this is the “Grand Man”, which is somehow the epitome of collective identity.

I am skeptical of this notion. I think that descension must come to a halt, at which point the ascending phase takes over. A process of “complementation”, in which assimilation has unconscious directionality, must replace the process of conscious directionality characteristic of integration (cf. Winther, 2014, here). Iamblichus divides the archetypes (i.e. the divinities) into different categories and calls the descending archetypes “daimons”. Daimons serve the processional impulse of the gods and give rise to laws of nature and psyche. The daimons aim to take root in reality and therefore tend to move downwards, especially if summoned in ritual. However, he explains that there is also another category of divinities that pursue the upward path. These are the “heroes” who are situated below the daimons, adjacent to the souls of men. They are agents of epistrophê, and guide the soul into divine measures (cf. Shaw, 1995, pp.131-33).

According to this argument, there is a movement of archetypes away from consciousness, too. Iamblichus says that the heroes’ relation to matter is quite sublime, although different than the daimonic. Since the heroes do not descend, it must mean that they transcend consciousness and resist integration. The projection on matter that they represent, is beyond the grasp of consciousness, since it strives away from sublunar reality. Instead, they may serve as vehicle for the philosopher’s upward journey and may fulfil another soteriological function than the daimonic form of “theurgy”. It is evident that Iamblichus’s soteriological doctrine allows for two movements of the spirit.

An upward movement, away from consciousness, leads to the empowerment of the archetype. It becomes “spirit”, independent of the worldly. As a phenomenon, it is antithetical to the “fall” of the archetype, which means the empowerment of the conscious realm (as in the fall of Prometheus). The sacrificial act, as a gift to the god, has been of central importance throughout the ages as a method of healing. Through the reanimation of the divine, mankind is also made whole. Instead of embezzling the riches of the gods, we may sacrifice from our own wealth of conscious riches. The theme is very central in the historical record and it should have relevance as a therapeutic method.

Today, however, we tend to view the unconscious as an inexhaustible horn of plenty. In fact, I believe that the “panacea” of the alchemists regarded a product of complementation, and not of integration. Art therapy, for instance, may have the opposite effect than the usual one, that is, the “making conscious” of the unconscious. A complementative therapy would serve to invigorate the unconscious realm, which is become depleted. However, the question is whether a “benevolent unconsciousness” is a passable notion in the community of psychotherapists. It is controversial notion, considering the enormous harm caused by the vulgar form of unconsciousness.

Gregory Shaw says that Iamblichus’s doctrine of theurgy represents a way of “descending to apotheosis” (Shaw, 1995, ch.10). However, I think it is better expressed as a different technique of ascension, comparable with the contemplative method, as recommended by Plotinus (c. 204/5-270) and Porphyry. The descent is merely preparatory. Iamblichus explains that through theurgy man is raised to union with the divine:
[Theurgy] controls divine symbols, and in virtue of them is raised up to union with the higher powers, and directs itself harmoniously in accordance with their dispensation, which enables it quite properly to assume the mantle of the gods. It is in virtue of this distinction, then, that the art both naturally invokes the powers from the universe as superiors, inasmuch as the invoker is a man, and yet on the other hand gives them orders, since it invests itself, by virtue of the ineffable symbols, with the hieratic role of the gods. (“De Mysteriis”, IV.2, Clarke, 2003, p.207).
Theurgic ritual centers upon divine ‘sumbola’ and ‘sunthêmata’ (symbolic tokens native to the soul). Jeffrey Kupperman argues that theurgy involves a “sacrifice”:
The physical signs and tokens make sacrifice effective. We are, in effect, sacrificing a possession of the gods to the gods from which they came. In doing this, we activate the corresponding symbol in our own souls, which in turn lead to our recollection of the gods. These divine symbols are the gods’ ‘energia’, their activity, and through sacrifice we begin to participate [in] that activity. (Kupperman, 2014, Kindle Loc.4645-4647).
That’s why I am skeptical of Shaw’s notion that theurgy focuses on a positive investment of worldly particulars. Also in Iamblichus’s method, the sacrifice to the gods would mean a relative abandonment of worldly and conscious life. The sunthêmata are “anagogic”, that is, they lead the soul upward to the ideal realm, away from worldliness. The sunthêmata are key to the Platonic ‘anamnêsis’ of the noetic Forms. According to Iamblichus, the central function of invocation is not to bring the gods down to us, but to raise us to the gods. Sunthêmata and sumbola also play an important role in the method of imagination. (However, Kupperman points out that the contemplative method is retained in Proclus, who is a follower of Iamblichus.) Shaw says:
In theurgy, anything that received the god and mediated its presence functioned as a sacred receptacle whether it was a stone, a plant, a smell, or a song. All functioned as hulê with respect to the divine agent which they received and revealed. Thus even a “vision” that mediated the presence of a god was a kind of hulê. (Shaw, 1995, p.50)
According to Iamblichus, the advent of daimons “drags the soul down to the realm of nature” (“De Mysteriis”, II.6, Clarke, 2003, p.99). So they were regarded as powers that defiled the soul by tying it to matter. There was only one way of freeing the soul of their influence, namely by fulfilling the demands of the theurgic rite. In this way the soul could begin to share in the continuity that extended from the gods to matter. When it was gradually freed from the bonds of generation, the soul could begin its ascent and participate in the fundamental unity of the cosmos (ibid. pp.40-41). Shaw says:
[This] same impulse, leading souls into bodies through daimonic urges, could be rerouted and transformed by theurgic rites. Theurgy limited and redirected the soul’s daimonic attractions, transforming these intermediary beings into the soul’s receptacle of salvation. (Shaw, 1995, p.46)
In view of theurgy, it is possible to reinterpret the Jungian method of active imagination. Contrary to Jung’s argument, it appears that active imagination is not very effective as a method of integration, because it is not an adequate means of solving our personal problems. Personal analysis and dream analysis remain the preferred methods. Nor is active imagination of much help on the path of worldly development. The conclusion is that active imagination must be characterized as anagogic rather than genagogic, using Platonic terms. It means that it is effective as a spiritual method (which might have great therapeutic potential, as such).

In Neoplatonic terms, not all archetypes are of the descending type. The ascending archetype may be invoked in theurgic imagination, but cannot be subjected to conscious integration. The Mercurius is preeminent among ascending deities. If this Neoplatonic concept is correct, then active imagination is better understood as a theurgic method, i.e. a method that lifts the soul upward to a blessed form of unconsciousness and union with the divine.


From this perspective, the realization of the Self takes on a different meaning, namely that of unity and simpleness, remote from the ideal of an embodied individuality. Such a notion of Self is not self-contradictory. However, the same cannot be said of the Jungian notion of individuation, which is supposed to lead to unity and wholeness. In fact, individuation leads to separateness, differentiation and multiplicity. It gives rise to painful inner tension as well as social tension. The spiritual Self, as it takes the soul in another direction, serves to compensate separateness and multiplicity.

Theurgy must principally be understood in terms of complementation. The process does not work exclusively according to the paradigm of psychological assimilation, because there are ascending gods, too. It is likely that Iamblichus came into contact with Hermeticism. We know that he drew on the same source as alchemical tradition, namely Egyptian religious and magic ceremonial. When Iamblichus aims to create the starry vehicle of the soul, he has the same goal in mind as the medieval alchemists, who wanted to create the glorified body (resurrection body) in advance (cf. von Franz, 2000, pp.369-70). Like the alchemists, he claimed that just about anything may function as raw material (receptacle) for the process. The ‘materia prima’ can be found right outside your doorstep.

In the Gnostic concept of dualism, the worldly demiurge is antagonistic to the will of the Supreme Being. In Plotinus’s theology, the demiurge is not antagonistic, but remains secondary to ‘the One’ as the second hypostasis. Iamblichus came into conflict with Porphyry over this, because he argued that ‘the One’ and the demiurge are conjoined in a mystical process of henôsis — a conjunction of opposites. The view of God as a multiplicity invoking worldly profusion is surprisingly close to the Gnostic concept of the demiurge. This view is strengthened by Iamblichus’s postulate of “the One of the soul”, which functions as the helmsman during life’s journey. It is a similar concept as the Gnostic demiurge, who forces his “laws” upon us from within the human soul. Kupperman says:
Iamblichus likens the One of the soul, the soul’s principle of unity and Intellect, to a ship’s helmsman, superior to the Phaedrus’ charioteer. The helmsman controls the ship and sets its course, even if wind and other factors influence ship’s response to the helmsman’s command. Just as the ship has movements proper to it when controlled by the helmsman, so the helmsman, the One of the soul, has activities proper to it when separate from its ship. These include divine possession, immaterial thinking, and union with the divine. (Kupperman, 2014, Kindle Loc. 4055-4061)
Iamblichus also says of the shape of the “soul’s vehicle”, that it is “spherical, which is both itself one and capable of containing multiplicity, which indeed makes it truly divine, in that while not departing from its oneness it dominates all the multiple” (“Iamblichi Chalcidensis”, Fr.49, Dillon, 1973, p.155). This is in radical disagreement with the Gnostic ideal. The Gnostics would say that the demiurge has taken possession of the human soul as a psychic complexio oppositorum.

Individuation (understood as the fall of the soul into worldly multiplicity) differentiates the soul and gives rise to diversity — a process that furthers the growth of personal identity. Paradoxically, the otherness being created is a form of “oneness” — the Self — which abides as the goal of personality. Jung appropriates Cusanus’s definition of God as his own definition of Self:
The Self is made manifest in the opposites and in the conflict between them; it is a ‘coincidentia oppositorum’. Hence the way to the self begins with conflict (Jung, CW 12:259) . . . The self, as a symbol of wholeness, is a coincidentia oppositorum, and therefore contains light and darkness simultaneously. (Jung, CW 5:576)
Iamblichus created a radical monotheism out of the original partitioned god image. The Jungian Self, which is a this-worldly model of personality, is a reified version of the ambivalent deity. Yet, in the view of the Gnostics the demiurge is an impostor and usurper who insists that he is the only God — there is no God above him! The conceitedness of the demiurge is a recurrent theme in Gnostic mythology. The Jungian notion of Self is enigmatic. Supposedly, the differentiation of personality leads to wholeness in the form of a higher oneness. In fact, differentiation means to “differ”, to stand out from group consciousness as a distinct individual; as a particular. Only the people who dare to be different may become true individuals, who develop their valuable peculiarities and stand up for themselves. In this way they fulfil the demands of individuation.

By example, one cannot differentiate one’s poetic vein to a level of excellence while devoting equally much attention to mathematical logic, since these are competing sides of personality that exclude each other. Individuals are quite different and sometimes irreconcilable. It is not possible to forge a complete personality, at least not at a particular point in time. Thus, if a person acquires distinction in some respect, then he is likely inferior in some other respect. The Self as a complexio oppositorum is a questionable ideal, an illusion forged to give the impression that wholeness and fullness can be achieved within the confines of the material world, forged by the demiurge. Proclus, although remaining true to Iamblichus’s doctrine of theurgy, reverted to Plotinus’s and Porphyry’s view of the divine. I think that this step must be taken by Jungians, too, with respect to the “conglomerative Self”.

Jung wants to have us believe that the alchemical Mercurius is a complexio oppositorum, representing the one and only Self. He says that Mercurius “consists of the most extreme opposites” (Jung, CW 13:269). But the Mercurius is better understood as an aspect of the pleroma (Gk. ‘divine totality’) fallen into materiality, who longs to be freed from his prison in order to reunite with the Most High. This process, which leads “upwards”, is a different process than psychology’s method of worldly integration, which is the way of the demiurge. As soon as we have taken care of our own “demons”, archetypal projections may be utilized for the purpose of complementation, representing the path of ascension. Projections do not only serve the purpose of integration as the downward path into further differentiation and earthly generation. Yet, it is not necessary to take the Gnostic view that the temporal realm is altogether evil.

Coincidentia Oppositorum

Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464) introduced to medieval philosophy the Neoplatonic conception of God as a coincidentia oppositorum. On the surface, it seems that Cusanus approves of the Iamblichean notion of a Godhead partaking in multiplicity of being. In fact, Cusanus denies that God harbours diversity:
So although on the basis of one form we ascribe to Him moving and on the basis of another form we ascribe to Him remaining-at-rest, nevertheless because He is Absolute Form in which all otherness is oneness and all diversity is identity, there cannot be in Him a diversity of forms; for this diversity, as we conceive it, is not identity itself. (“De Visione Dei”, ch.3, Hopkins, 1988)
Jasper Hopkins explains Cusanus’s notion of ‘coincidentia oppositorum’:
In God opposites coincide, and, yet, God is beyond the coincidence of opposites. ‘That in God opposites coincide’ is Nicholas’s way of saying that God is altogether undifferentiated. Although He can admissibly be symbolized as Being itself and as Oneness itself, there is in Him no distinction between Being and Not-being, between Oneness and Not-oneness. Likewise, He is not ‘a’ being, since all beings are finite and differentiated; nor does He have — in and of Himself — a plurality of attributes. ‘That God is beyond the coincidence of opposites’ is Nicholas’s way of saying that no finite mind can comprehend God, since finite minds cannot conceive of what it is like for God to be altogether undifferentiated […]
   So the claim that in God opposites coincide is not incompatible with the claim that God is beyond the coincidence of opposites. For God, as undifferentiated Being itself, just is ineffably beyond all comprehension. (Hopkins, 2011)
Hopkins clarifies Cusanus’s standpoint in “De Docta Ignorantia”, according to which God both enfolds all things and that in God contradictories coincide:
The world can be said only to be enfolded in God’s power, from which it is unfolded in the act of creation. Although Nicholas refers to God as the Enfolding of all things, he never calls Him the Coincidence of all things. Rather, he says that in the Divine Enfolding all things coincide without difference (De Coniecturis II, 1 (78)). (ibid.)
The way in which opposites are “enfolded” in God would mean that they have cancelled each other out. Opposites such as plus and minus, warm and cold, blue and orange, have become nought. In modern physics exists a corresponding notion. Virtual particle pairs (a particle and an anti-particle of any type) are continually created everywhere in space. It can occur since their sum energy is zero. However, the particles are soon annihilated in a collision. In Cusanus’s terms, the particles are always “unfolding” and “enfolding”. According to a cosmological theory known as the “zero-energy universe”, the total amount of energy in the universe is exactly zero. ‘Creatio ex nihilo’ can occur because the amount of positive energy in the form of matter is exactly cancelled out by negative energy of gravity. In view of modern physics, it seems that opposites can unfold and enfold according to preordained laws. Although this only concerns the material universe, it accords with the relation of opposites following Cusanus:
[God] is of every form and of no form, alike; He is completely ineffable; in all things He is all things, in nothing He is nothing, and in Him all things and nothing are Himself… (“De Possest”, 74, ibid.)
Cusanus is reasoning in terms of Plotinus and his notion of the transcendent ‘the One’ (to hen), which contains no division, multiplicity or distinction, and which is beyond all categories, including being and non-being. However, in Jung’s reading, coincidentia oppositorum acquires a different meaning. Jung equates the concept with ‘complexio oppositorum’, which means a complex of opposites (i.e. a conglomerate of opposites where opposites exist in a state of tension, always at risk of flying apart). Accordingly, he explains that “[the] Self is made manifest in the opposites and in the conflict between them; it is a ‘coincidentia oppositorum’ ” (Jung, CW 12:259). Jung repeatedly attributes the term complexio oppositorum to Cusanus. He asserts that it is “a definition of God in Nicholas of Cusa” (Jung, CW 9ii:355n). However, the notion of complexio oppositorum does not occur in Cusanus (cf. Henderson, 2010).

Although Cusanus isn’t exactly crystal clear, it is safe to say that Jung’s notion of Self as a complexio oppositorum lacks support in Cusanus’s notion of coincidentia oppositorum. In fact, Cusanus’s God image is void of opposites, because they are “enfolded”. Jung’s ideal of development is to integrate the opposites in order to contain them and try and tolerate the tension that life generates. With a continued descent new opposites are unearthed that one must resolve to integrate. As a consequence the individual will more and more approximate the Self as a complexio oppositorum.

Jung gives a truthful picture of the process, since tension is always generated when the individual breaks away from the collective. It is a painful process that leads to existential loneliness. Life itself poses moral problems that unconscious men never need to contend with. My concern is that the ideal is one-sided, because it speaks of individuation merely as conscious expansion and descent into temporal generation. Jung has discarded Cusanus’s transcendental ideal of development, according to the Christian Neoplatonist goal of achieving henosis (‘unio mystica’). It is the time-honoured spiritual ideal, according to which the spiritual pilgrim must climb the heavenly ladder to achieve union with the Godhead, which is formless and simple.

In Jungian psychology the “conglomerative Self” rules the roost. It brings to mind the fraudulent Gnostic demiurge who claims that he is the supreme deity, and that there is no God above him. In fact, there are two ideals of Self, or two sides of Self, one descending and one ascending. Yet, as Heraclitus says, “The road up and the road down are the same thing” (Hippolytus, “Refutations”). I have proposed that Jung’s ‘Self of immanence’ be complemented with a ‘Self of transcendence’ (cf. Winther, 2011b, here)

In Neoplatonism, the demiurge is the second hypostasis that harbours all the Forms. In Gnosticism, where the demiurge is regarded negatively, he is typically further removed from the Supreme Being in the metaphysical scheme. The Christian Trinity is probably derived from the Neoplatonic three hypostases. The Father could be thought of as ‘the One’. As it is wholly ineffable it cannot easily function as ideal and goal of personality. It could be the motive behind Iamblichus’s reformed view of ‘the One’, according to which it no longer remains beyond multiplicity of being. It would allow for a psychic correspondence in the form of the One of the soul.

If the Father represents transcendence, there are two persons in the Christian Godhead who stand in relation to mankind. The one is the Christ, representing the heroic principle; the other is the Holy Spirit, representing the daimonic principle. The Holy Spirit descends upon people invoking enlightenment, as in the Pentecostal miracle. The daimonic quality of the Holy Spirit is evident from the fact that his presence could also mean danger. Jesus says: “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). Jung says:
The psychological relationship between man and the trinitarian life process is illustrated first by the human nature of Christ, and second by the descent of the Holy Ghost and his indwelling in man, as predicted and promised by the Christian message. The life of Christ is on the one hand only a short, historical interlude for proclaiming the message, but on the other hand it is an exemplary demonstration of the psychic experiences connected with God’s manifestation of himself (or the realization of the self). The important thing for man is […] what happens afterwards: the seizure of the individual by the Holy Ghost. (Jung, CW 11: para.234)
The Holy Spirit stands for the conscious assimilation of the divine. That’s why Jung takes the view that the third person of the Godhead represents a more advanced stage, compared with those of the Father and the Son, which are preliminary. In fact, the spirituality of the Son is equally important. While mankind is blessed with grace through the descent of Holy Spirit, the Son lies embedded in materiality. With the aid of spiritually enlightened humanity he makes his way back to the heavenly realm — a movement representing the redemption of God. The indwelling spirit amounts to the Son of the Philosophers who the alchemists are working to redeem. Jung’s favourite author was Gerhard Dorn (c. 1530-1584), who must have represented an enigma to Jung. Wikipedia says:
What was needed, [Dorn] asserted, was a mystical and spiritual “philosophy of love” — his radical theology claimed that it was God, not man who was in need of Redemption and he defined the alchemical opus as a labor which redeemed not man but God, a proposal which came perilously close to being heretical in the eyes of Christian orthodoxy. (Wiki, ‘Gerhard Dorn’, here)
Dorn wrote about the ascending spiritual principle of the Son, according to which archetypal projections shall not be integrated but complemented. The Son of God leads us in the other direction, toward apotheosis and union with God in the presence of divine love. Dorn explained that the alchemical ‘coniunctio’ consisted in the union of the total man with the unus mundus (‘one world’), corresponding to the Nous of Neoplatonism — the spiritual cosmos of intelligible Forms. It is clear that Jung overestimated the path of integration. He underestimated or misinterpreted the message of Dorn and Cusanus.

The enantiodromia into unconsciousness

Jung pictures the Self as a consonance of opposites, a complexio oppositorum. The kaleidoscopic Self becomes manifest all the while the many warring elements are conciliated. But how is this possible? After all, conscious assimilation should not add to inner tension; it resolves conflict and gives rise to a new harmonious whole. On the surface, it seems a self-contradictory notion that the manifestation of the Self depends on a conflict between opposites. After all, a complexio oppositorum of consciousness implies that parts have come together in harmony, as in a machine or a molecule. By example, when two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom are combined, water is created, which brings into existence new and peculiar qualities. (On the other hand, as long as complexes remain unconscious they will give rise to tension.) However, what Jung has in mind is really a harmonious relation between conscious and unconscious, shaped through conflict:
The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal: that is the goal of a lifetime. In its attainment “left and right” are united, and conscious and unconscious work in harmony. (Jung, CW 16:200)
Jung exemplifies with the coniunctio oppositorum of Sol and Luna in alchemy. Conscious and unconscious are “integrated” as in a marriage between man and woman, where the two become one, yet remain relatively independent as persons. Thus, integration takes the meaning of “cooperative effort”. At first blush it sounds very good, because it rings of time-honoured Taoist philosophy. Aniela Jaffé (1984) gives an excellent résumé of this Jungian concept:
Modern man, with his incomparably more differentiated consciousness, has lost touch with nature both without and within, with his psychic images and therefore with meaning. He is one-sided, and he goes on developing one-sidedly along the path of intellectual differentiation. The primitive child of nature, who yet dwells within him, was repressed, consequently it degenerated and from time to time goes berserk and turns him into a pitiless barbarian. Contact with the unconscious, which heals and makes whole, restores the connection with his origin, with the source of psychic images. This is not a reversion to barbarism, but regeneration through a renewed and conscious relationship with a living spirit buried in the unconscious. Every step forward on the way to individuation is at the same time a step backwards into the past, into the mysteries of one’s own nature.
   When Jung, in his eighties, was discussing at his house the process of becoming conscious with a group of young psychiatrists from America, England and Switzerland, he ended with the surprising words: “And then you have to learn to become decently unconscious.” This was not a disavowal of his own work, nor a depreciation of consciousness, but a hint that every attempt at greater consciousness is followed, or should be followed, by an enantiodromia into unconsciousness. Yet unconsciousness at the end of the process is of a different kind from the unconsciousness at its beginning, just as a mountain seen from the valley looks different after one has climbed it. With this “unconsciousness of consciousness” scientific observation reaches its bourn. It is the beginning of the way — no longer definable by the intellect — to meaning and wisdom. Those who have experienced the archetype of meaning, or have created a myth of meaning or made it their own, need no longer interpret. They know: “It is”. The ephemeral surface of life is no longer a veil hiding the transcendental reality, for both worlds now coalesce in a meaningful unity. Then the meaning of the wind is simply the wind, of love, love, of life, life. What at the beginning of the way was sheer unconsciousness and emptiness, or appeared commonplace, now contains the secret of simplicity in which the opposites are united.
   When one does “the next and most necessary thing without fuss and with conviction, one is always doing something meaningful and intended by fate”. So Jung once described simplicity in daily life. “But simple things are always the most difficult” is the corollary that recurs in many places in his work. Simplicity is a great art, because it is in constant danger of being wrecked in collision with the world or by unconsciousness, but it remains a goal. It brings that original, transcendental wholeness of the self into reality once its opposites become conscious and its multitudinous aspects are made one again. (Jaffé, 1984, pp.149-50)
Key to the notion is that “[every] step forward on the way to individuation is at the same time a step backwards into the past, into the mysteries of one’s own nature” (ibid.) So this is simultaneous ascent and descent, which is also how Gregory Shaw understands Iamblichus. (Iamblichus was motivated by his wish to bring Neoplatonism to the people, which explains his focus on pagan ritual.) Thus, the “enantiodromia into unconsciousness” is not nearly as radical as the ‘mors voluntaria’ of the Christian mystics or the ‘anabasis’ of the Neoplatonists. Supposedly, we can strive after spiritual wholeness while being caught up in worldly life. In my view, this is not possible other than as an expression of the religious function. It is really a religious concept with pagan undertones.

As a matter of fact, worldly achievement demands a conscious effort that will frustrate our attempts at attaining a consummate inner life. It’s like playing a game of chess; you need to focus on what you do. There is not much time for “the mysteries of one’s own nature”. Instead, we tend to become engulfed by our day-to-day tasks; daily necessities that demand much of our energy. It is necessary to focus on our worldly doings, because we must produce quality and get things right. In the social situation at the workplace, for instance, we are required to be consciously alert. Due to the prevalence of immature people, including narcissists and psychopaths, we are always at risk of being downtrodden. It is proper to have a passionate focus in outer life, since it functions as a solution to the notorious puer æternus problem (‘eternal youth’; a long-standing nonrealistic form of immaturity, cf. Winther, 2015, here).

It’s evident that outer life takes a toll. The unconscious will respond by producing dreams that relate to the worldly situation. The central function of both body and psyche is to restore harmony and balance. In full analogy with the self-healing capacity of the body, there is an autonomous psychic function of self-healing. In Poul Bjerre’s terminology it is called ‘assimilation’, which is biologically based as it improves our survival value.

It is a well-known fact of psychology that the ego has a devouring quality. The synthetic function of consciousness causes the ego to identify with unconscious content. Thus, it is an implausible idea that the vigorous ego is capable of standing in permanent relation to the unconscious as in a marriage between man and woman. Rather, in order to leave room for the unconscious, both ego consciousness and earthly life must be radically restrained, in keeping with spiritual tradition. The enantiodromia into unconsciousness requires “total commitment”, which is regarded the best cure for the puer æternus syndrome.

The notion of a simultaneous ascent and descent is an earmark of Neo-Paganism. It results in neither one thing nor the other (the meat is “neither chopped nor minced” — Swedish idiom). In preference, we should do things properly, either in outer life or inner. Arguably, by extending the notion of integration, Jungian psychology has created a fertile ground for the puer æternus syndrome. Paradoxically, integration represents the encompassment of active conflictive opposites during the ongoing manifestation of the Self. Yet, to the advanced consciousness, this is not possible to achieve. Psychic contents will either become coordinated in a harmonious whole or be thrown out. In order to encompass conflictive opposites the ego must view reality in a dim light, since consciousness makes opposites fly apart. It means that personality will neither take root in the one nor the other, but keep floating through air like a balloon. This is the puer æternus.

Neuroses represent inadequate solutions to life’s problems. I theorize that the puer syndrome could function as a means of self-healing, in which case personality does not necessarily exhibit the typical neurotic symptoms. It might be the proper interim solution for people who, due to illness or other detriments, are unable to take root in life. In that case, the puer æternus would function as a healer. After all, it is a blissful experience to be carried by an archetype through life for a time. For natural reasons, it is the prerogative of youth.

Descending and ascending gods

Iamblichus’s partition of the gods into heroic-ascending and daimonic-descending has something to do with the development of consciousness and morality. Unlike Alexander the Great, who worshipped Dionysos, a modern consciousness is disinclined to see the incarnating and the resurrecting deity as one and the same. After all, Jesus never really incarnates but is born directly from the material principle. Satan’s journey, on the other hand, is paradigmatic of incarnation. He fell from heaven “like lightning”, in the words of Jesus. Yet, in order for the divine principle to begin its upward journey, it first requires a downward movement of incarnation.

In the Christian conception of mysticism, personal development is associated with an upward journey of apotheosis in the imitation of Christ. Against this, Jungian individuation puts the demand on the individual to expand his horizons. Conscious improvement is very central, which involves the integration of the unconscious. Albert Einstein, true to the Western ideal of conscious expansion, said that “intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Against this, I have argued that there is too strong focus on the “incarnation” of the archetype — individuation must at some point cease and an upward movement commence.

The notion of two categories of archetypes is interesting, since we can observe both movements, up and down, in fairytales. Yet, the Dummling type of hero moves both down and up, and so does Dionysos. This notion is much older; an uncensored and naïve product of the unconscious that allows us to see the whole truth about the journey of the god. In this conception, the divinity is not divided in two, e.g., a descending Lucifer and an ascending Christ. Dionysos is such a dying and resurrecting god of archaic origin. The Titans tricked him into seeing his own mirror image, which precipitated his fall. They tore him apart, and something of his divine substance still lies scattered in the world together with the ashes of the Titans, which is matter per se. But the goddess Rhea gathered his remains and restored him to life (this is similar to Osiris being restored to life by Isis) (cf. Wiki, here).

Dionysos’s self-mirroring represents the fall of a god into physis, as he becomes projected onto matter. It also represents dismemberment. It is a myth with a Gnostic hue, because of the way in which he achieves rebirth. His restitution means that he leaves behind the sublunar and conscious realm, in which his body was once scattered. This is similar to the redemption of Sophia or the alchemical Mercurius. One gets the impression that the archetype, in its fall, experiences a longing for consciousness. The theme also occurs in the tale of Narcissus (cf. Winther, 2011a, here.)

Consciousness has a function similar to gravity; it pulls down the archetype from its ethereal and unconscious existence. In myth, the daylight world of consciousness is symbolized by the reflective surface of a lake or a mirror, which generates self-awareness through conscious “reflection”. In fairytales it is sometimes depicted as “the glass mountain”, in which creatures of the unconscious get stuck. Conscious constellation coincides with a downward movement of archetypes. Conscious advancement is central to the process of individuation. We simply cannot live according to instinct anymore, but are always thinking about what we’re doing. We question if something is meaningful, and formulate conscious motives.

Dionysos falls into materiality, but he also resurrects. It is evident that his movement goes in both directions. However, in the Christian conception there is a partition of the Godhead: the descending deity goes under the name of Satan (or Lucifer, etc.) whereas the ascending deity is known as the Christ. Satan is daimonic whereas the Christ is heroic. The redemptive work of the Christ consists in his ascent. Thereby he makes restitution for the great bereavement of the Godhead caused by the fall of Satan — the most brightly shining star in the divine assembly.

The division between light and dark, transcendence and immanence, was not as pronounced in Greek religion as in the Hebrew conception. Nevertheless, Lucifer and Prometheus belong to the same archetype, although they are valued differently. Lucifer means ‘bringer of dawn’ or ‘bringer of light’. Prometheus, who stole the fire and brought it to mankind, is the corresponding god in Greek mythology. Dionysos, in a sense, is Christ and Lucifer in one person. Since it carries a great deal of archetypal vitality, this view of the divine resurged in medieval times, hidden in the abstruse symbolism of alchemy. The Mercurius is “duplex” as he is ambivalent. During the repeated process of “circular distillation” the spirit Mercurius is drawn out of matter. He will ascend and become wholly spiritual. Central to the notion is that the artifex is responsible for the redemptive work. Dionysos’s oeuvre is circular, too. However, in his case a goddess is responsible for his redemption, which means that the process is largely autonomous.

The fall of Dionysos is a world-creating event, but it also means the augmentation of the conscious light in humanity, inaugurating a new cultural epoch. The fall of Prometheus brought light to humanity, too. It is similar to the Enochian theme. In the Book of Enoch the angelic fall contributed to an enormous conscious increase in humanity, because the angels “pointed out to them every secret of their wisdom” (Enoch 68:10). Humankind acquired knowledge of many things, such as literacy and metalworking. But it also led to temptations, power-madness and the spread of iniquity.

Dionysos is an ambivalent god, associated with madness and ecstasy. Arguably, it is his ambivalent nature that modern people came to experience as immoral, which is why they instead turned to a god that only points upwards, namely the Christ. The descending god was rejected as evil. Yet, Jesus is not as light as he has been painted by theology, nor is Satan as dark. Dionysos is the god of wine, ritual madness, and fertility, who induces frenzy. The breaking of the moral chains was essential in the Dionysian cult. Self-transcendence was achieved by removing all inhibitions, including our self-conscious fears. It is similar to the Gnostic sects whose goal was to subvert the oppressive restraints of the natural moral laws that were imposed on us by the demiurge. When all the chains that keep us bound to the worldly realm are broken, salvation is achieved. Richard Seaford explains that the dissolution of the boundaries of individual identity was central to the cult. Dionysos is especially given to epiphanies:
The abnormal mental states that occurred in Dionysiac cult are comparable to those that still occur today, in various cultures, in possession cults such as the candomblé in Brazil or the Hausa bori. Typical manifestations of possession trance that occurred also in Dionysiac cult are trembling, foaming at the mouth, distorted eyes, insensitivity to pain, falling to the ground, imagined death, amnesia, bodily movements such as the arched back with head flung back, and the vital role of music and dance. Moreover, inasmuch as possession trance involves a change of identity, it often takes the form of initiation, which brings the initiate into a relation with a spirit or god that can subsequently be renewed and negotiated and that is a cure. There are enough similarities between possession cult in general and the fragmentary evidence for Dionysiac cult to mean that the latter can be cautiously illuminated by the former. This applies in particular to some remarks by Plato.
   Plato notes that mothers calm their babies not by stillness but by rocking and a kind of singing, and compares this, as a cure, to the effect of dance and song on those who are ‘out of their mind’ in a Dionysiac frenzy. In both cases the state to be remedied is a kind of fear, which is by external motion transformed into peace (galênê ) and calm (hêsuchia ) in the soul (Laws 790e). (Seaford, 2006, pp.105-106)
The transgression of a boundary seems to be an essential aspect of the mysteries of initiation. Overstepping a limit means that the initiand is being “immoral” in some sense of the word. So, according to these beliefs, manhood proper could only be achieved by going through a form of initiation. Otherwise the individual would remain a puer æternus, bound to make transgressions in a neurotic way, which means that the “criminal acts” depend on a compulsive force deriving from the unconscious. Indeed, this all is very “immoral” according to a Christian consciousness. In our modern evaluation, the Mosaic law and our natural moral inhibitions aren’t regarded as evil. Probably the notion of spiritual emancipation, which is the central maxim of the Dionysian cult, came to be regarded as both sinful and deleterious to society. The cultic practice was designed to breach the natural order, but also to demote the authorities of society and to reduce our feeling of respect for them. Wikipedia says:
Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods. (‘Dionysus’, Wiki, here)
If Dionysos is the underminer of “societal order”, how can he be the benefactor of mankind? The notion of breaking the natural law is found also in primitive ritual. The Hottentot initiands practiced ‘spermepotation’ (ingestion of semen), similar to the Gnostic Phibionite ritual. The young initiands then proceeded to have sexual intercourse with their mothers. In this way, the breaching of the Oedipal taboo served an emancipative purpose, as the son passes the incest barrier to the stage of manhood. Initiation also took expression as self-laceration, the knocking out of teeth, for instance. Roman followers of Cybele practiced ritual self-castration (sanguinaria). Thus, they stood aside from the natural order of things, created by the demiurge.

The emergence of individuality necessitates the breaking of bonds, because personality must slough off collective identity. That’s why Jesus in his own time was regarded a politically incorrect thinker, because he was invoking the power of the individual. (Jesus’s nature is contradistinctive to the theological Christ.) It is the power of the heart that counts, and not so much the principles of commonality, such as religious laws. Much in the same way, Dionysos was the god of the misfits and outcasts, who served to personify political incorrectness. These were the first individuals — people like Diogenes the Cynic who lived in a big clay jar. He laughed at the aristocrats and is said to have walked around Corinth with a lit lamp in daytime, looking for “a human being” (“I am looking for an honest man”). So he was looking for an individual.


© Mats Winther, 2015.


1. transference n. The unconscious feelings toward one person from the past redirected or transferred to another in the present (e.g., meeting someone who unconsciously reminds you of your father and interacting with that person in ways you would normally interact with your father). Transference is more generally defined as the interpretation of ambiguous (usually interpersonal) cues based on one’s upbringing or attachment. In psychotherapy, transference refers specifically to the patient’s interpretation of the therapist’s behavior, based on the patient’s early attachment to primary caregivers… (Matsumoto, 2009)


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