picture of the day
Clark University group photo September 1909.
Front row left to right: Sigmund Freud, Stanley Hall, Carl Gustav
Back row left to right: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor
Credit: Sigmund Freud Museum.
Jul 09, 2008
But What About Jung?
"But what about Jung?" is one of the
first questions people typically ask when confronted with
the possibility that ancient myths commemorate high-energy
The elaborate psychological
theories propounded by the Swiss Carl Gustav Jung
(1875-1961) in the early 20th century have left an indelible
impression on the popular understanding of myth and symbol
even today. The upshot of Jung’s prolific writings on the
subject is that the recurrent archetypes expressed in myths
as well as dreams spring from a universal reservoir of
potential forms he called the ‘collective unconscious’.
Perennial motifs such as the old hag, the soul, the
trickster, the round dragon and dragon combat emerge
spontaneously from this inexhaustible repository at any time
and place. In other words, Jung argued that the fundamental
themes of world mythology, including creation mythology,
have an internal, psychological origin. How does this theory
relate to the recent proposal that glowing plasmas observed
from the earth formed the impetus to early myth making?
Essentially the same question can be asked for the
intellectual legacy of two other giants of comparative
mythology – Sigmund Freud and Joseph Campbell. The father of
psychoanalysis, Freud (1856-1939) originated the concept of
an individual unconscious mind, which Jung would later seize
upon and extend with a ‘collective’ component. Freud
famously contended that mythical motifs such as the story of
Oedipus reflected repression of factors in someone’s
Campbell (1904-1987), meanwhile, followed Jung’s ideas
rather uncritically and, not producing any peer-reviewed
work of his own, spent a lifetime expounding it, albeit in
an eloquent and appealing way. Does the plasma theory of
myth contradict the work of Freud, Jung and Campbell?
Before this question can be answered, it must be pointed out
that Jung’s theory of archetypes and the collective
unconscious, for all its erudition and elegance, is really
little more than an armchair philosophy that is some way
removed from the gravity and sanctity with which the cosmic
themes of myth were imbued in their original settings. The
theories of Freud, Jung and Jung’s unoriginal follower
Campbell make a mockery of the earnest manner with which
representatives of ancient societies as well as
‘traditional’ societies of more recent times handled the
subject of myth.
With the most profound conviction, creation myths in their
original social context were invariably reported to be true
historical and earth-shaking events. The best that Jungian
scholars can make of this wisdom is that these well-versed
shamans, chiefs and traditional storytellers could not
distinguish puerile sexual fantasies and images seen in
dreams from genuine cosmic events; as if they were all
wrong about their strong emphasis on the cosmic scale and
setting of creation stories. Freud and Jung effectively
declared the reality-claim of creation myths a delusion, if
not a lie.
Although the sincerity – and also the ingenuity – of both
thinkers is not in doubt, the plasma theory of myth
certainly scores a point in accommodating the historicity of
creation myths in the real world, pinpointing external, not
internal causes to mythical content. It bears little
surprise that the primary interest of both scholars – though
perhaps not of Campbell – was the human mind, not mythology,
as both harnessed myth to illuminate psychology, and not
vice versa. This, in itself, is telling enough.
The collective unconscious theory was not just thought
provoking; it was also thought-provocative. The existence of
such a state or entity has never been demonstrated and it is
really no more than a sophisticated disguise of a question
mark. Upon checking Jung’s published evidence for the
collective unconscious, it appears that the archetypal
motifs did not emerge ‘spontaneously’ from the psyches of
his patients. Instead, they could very easily have entered
their minds through mundane education and interests.
No credible evidence warrants the existence of such a
mysterious reservoir of ideas – somewhat like Plato’s
hypercosmic realm of ideas – from which myths arise. On the
contrary, archetypal myths are ubiquitous because their
electromagnetic prototypes were observed worldwide and were
commemorated in a thousand art forms.
But not all is lost. Although the Jungian paradigm of the
collective unconscious does far less justice to the nature
of world mythology than the plasma theory, many of the
specific cases Jung – as well as Freud and Campbell –
adduced to illustrate psychological resonance in myth are
credible enough. The overarching theory may be wrong, but
much of the evidence is still valuable and informative.
As an example, the archetypal myth of the birth of the
warrior-hero describes how the youngster was at first
concealed in a dark enclosure, floating on a stream of
water, then emerged from this ‘egg’ or ‘basket’ amid an
outpouring of light or lightning. Jungian scholars explain
this birth-and-exposure myth with the psychological trauma
of birth, reflecting one’s first memories as a fetus in a
dark womb filled with amniotic fluids followed by the
rending of the womb, the first breath and the severance of
the umbilical cord.
The reconstruction of this archetypal birth myth is beyond
doubt and the comparison with the ‘birth trauma’ is
striking; though hard to prove, it is attractive to think
that some of the myth-makers recognized this symbolism and
wove it into their poetry.
But does the ‘birth trauma’ successfully account for the
origins of the myths in case? To answer ‘yes’ to this
question would be to deny the cosmogonic setting and the
astral significance the story is given in countless ancient
sources. A far more economic explanation is that the
metaphors of a child, a womb, amniotic fluid, and an
umbilical cord were chosen to reflect the active plasma in
the sky precisely because the formations seen produced these
associations in the minds of eye-witnesses on earth.
Therefore, the psychological ‘matches’ discussed in Jungian
literature illuminate the psychology embedded in the choice
of symbols picked to label and describe the celestial
Contributed by Rens Van der Sluijs
The Mythology of the World Axis; Exploring the Role of
Plasma in World Mythology
The World Axis as an Atmospheric Phenomenon
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The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe