‘Theology takes Gods literally and we do not. In archetypal psychology Gods are imagined. They are formulated ambiguously, as metaphors for modes of experience.... They are the lords of the soul's realms of being.... The soul cannot be, except in one of their patterns. All psychic reality is governed by one or another archetypal fantasy, given sanction by a God. I cannot but be in them.’
– James Hillman, from Re-Visioning Psychology
When we truly hear the above quote from James Hillman, we ‘see’ that we cannot speak of soul without attending to the meaning of ‘God’. It means Psychology inevitably dances intimately with Theology. It implies that a ‘purely secular psychology’ no longer speaks of, or for, the soul. And therefore is no longer truly Psychology. Several articles on this website speak of ‘God’ or ‘Gods’. This piece aims to give a sense of what is meant here with this baggage-laden word.
God or Gods?
It would be truer to the culture from where this website is written, to speak of Gods rather than God. Unfortunately, in our time, the moment the word ‘Gods’ flows from our mouths, it sprouts fantasies inconsistent with what we are speaking of. Images abound of ‘quaint,’ ‘unreal’ fairy tale-like characters, without any real weight, substance, complexity or depth. While they are associated with ‘irrelevant ancient myths steeped in superstition.’ And soon any such conversations are swiftly dismissed, nicely packaged with incredulous smiles. Barely concealing the underlying attitude that, ‘I can't believe that you believe in this stuff!?’
So, often we have to use the word ‘God’ to communicate the substance, weight and seriousness of what we are talking about. And yet, to do that in our world today, is to again open Pandora's box. That is, to provoke an infinity of prejudices and misunderstandings. Which really are manifestations of what the ancients called ‘demons’ or ‘poisons’. Yet, far from bewailing this fact, the stuff of Pandora's boxes is part of what is required to activate the processes facilitating the shifts in awareness needed to deepen into soul. So here follows a tentative first step towards trying to clarify something that does not belong to the realm of clarity.
Desire for God
Carl Jung said that the six human instincts included instincts for reflection and religion. This is significant, because instincts are a place at the core of our beings. They are that in us which is most intimately involved with primal nature. Jung's idea implies that ‘the raw animal’ in us desires to experience God. That the desire for reflection and closeness to God are not ‘conditioned,’ ‘illusory,’ or ‘a weakness’. Rather, that these desires are so fundamentally human, that to deny them is to be ill.
A core dimension of being human opens when we open to our longing to experience God. Paradoxically, this can only happen as long as we surrender to the truth that this longing cannot be perfectly satisfied. And that our connection to it waxes and wanes. Perhaps because this longing is itself an essential part of the experience of God.
The only place where we are able to meet God, is in this moment. Now. Whatever our experience is right now, is God. And either we are opening to it, or closing to it. When we open to it, we discover that there are often several distinct experiences at the same time. Coming from different ‘places’ in us. Sometimes layered over one another. Or appearing as dimensions of one another. It is a fluid ever-changing world. We meet God inside our experience. Not through concepts or thoughts. Not even through beliefs or faith. In fact, these things often obscure embodied presence with the depths of our experience. At a certain stage, opening to God requires that we deconstruct our ideas about God. We often need to dissolve obstacles so we may open more deeply. Way down, deep beneath the surface of this moment.
Ego has to step out of the way
Relating to God through our concept of God is a sure sign that we are serving ego and not opening into God. Feeling offended by or being intolerant of someone else's concept of God, often reveals that we are relating to God conceptually. To truly experience God, we have to move ourselves out of the way. Any concept or definition of God really aims at limiting God, in line with our idea of what God should be. Such literalising movesπ reflect the true meaning of ‘idolatry’. Which is not ‘a sin’, but rather a habit that obstructs us from being in God.
This is ego at work. Ego thinks it can confine God to safe little boxes. ‘Boxes’ we call concepts or definitions. Doing this reassures ego. It feels safe and secure. For example, it reassures itself that its behaviour is ‘right’. Or that ‘I will go to heaven.’ Or even, ‘experiencing bliss means I am close to God.’ Like a hypnotist it constantly talks itself into feeling absolutely certain about things. Ego's addiction to reassurance leaves no place for any uncertainty. And so it erodes the potency that only comes from remaining close to the reality of death. Most trustworthy authorities on deepening into soul agree that soul is constantly in an intimate relationship with death. Ultimately, ego usurps the role of God. And so renders ‘God’ meaningless. For only the Gods can know absolute certainty.
Ego in charge resembles addiction; addiction is patterned on being trapped in ego. The more we feed it, the more its hunger grows. So, to further bolster and expand its ‘sense of solid ground,’ ego creates whole religions based on its concept of God. And not only gives itself the absurd ‘right’ to convert others, but turns it into a ‘divine duty.’ As if the love and power of God depends on the success of ego's cancerous expansive self-important political campaigns!
Then, ego goes on to call anyone not worshiping its concept of God, ‘enemies’, ‘heathens’, ‘infidels’, and so forth. Such moves polarise existence: those who are included and those who are excluded. Those who are ‘for us’; those who are ‘against us.’ Good vs evil. They split the wholeness of all that exists. And the moment our awareness is governed by such splits, true experience of the sacred is no longer possible. For then it is no longer about God, but really about ‘me, myself and protecting what is mine.’ It is deeply baffling how such religions never seem to notice how they are driven by the will to power. Or how their religion has in fact become another form of materialism. Truth is, all religions are man-made and therefore prone to being ego-driven.
But these campaigns really have nothing to do with God. They simply feed malignantly expanding elaborate egotistical fantasy. While never bothering to reflect on the underlying craving for others ‘to believe as I do.’ Or, on the utter disrespect, lack of boundaries and hubristic arrogance reflected by its entitlement to convert others. Ultimately, this whole expedition is about trying to dispel ego's uncertainty. Which it craves to exorcise entirely. Which is why all ‘evil’ has to be killed, overcome, or driven out.
Bigger, better, faster, stronger
Again, it was Jung who said, ‘Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking. The one is but the shadow of the other.’ The world in which we live today fully embraces ego's culture of limitless expansion. It is an epidemic. If you question it, you are deemed ‘not in tune with necessities of the times’. You are looked at as if deficient in some fundamental way. We see this malignant illness reflected in world economies driven by limitless growth. In cancerous global warming and mass-extinction of living species. In the prevalence of malignant tumours in our bodies. The increasing popularity of egotistical ‘strongmen’, the appeal of gangster culture and the prevalence of thieves as leaders.
The vulgarity of these leaders is simply a reflection of the values increasingly resonating in the hearts of people they rule. Truth is, the current crescendo of this culture is merely the development of one-sidedness that has long pervaded our consensus culture. To which all of us, in some way or another, have complacently subscribed. And, one-sidedness is a hallmark of ego.
We see this one-sidedness reflected in how our culture does not acknowledge the essential value of ‘shadow’ for the soul. What we don't like, inside or outside ourselves, we repress. In other words, shadows are banished to the underworld. But anything banished grows powerful in its seething resentment and discord. So that from these shadowlands, they eventually tend to strike back through wrathful ‘symptoms’. Like powerful overwhelming depressions. Or, powerful ego-preachers caught in the back of limousines with prostitutes. Or a profusion of priests playing with little boys. Also, devastating illness. Or, the guerrilla ‘terrorism’ of demonised and suppressed cultures. Eventually, one-sidedness is always overwhelmed by the ‘symptoms’ it causes.
The I Ching teaches that modesty is required to remain open to the experience of God. Yet, again the word ‘modesty’ unleashes Pandora's vortices of evil. For this modesty is not the ‘weak good nature’ our culture so often imagines it to be. To the contrary, it necessitates firmness, potency and the ability to discipline ourselves and our immediate environment. (Which is not the same as converting those in our immediate environment.) We cannot become modest in this sense simply from a moment of insight, or even from an authentic ‘flash of enlightenment’. No matter how powerful. Enlightenment may happen in an instant. But it takes lifetimes to embody.
The image used for true Modesty, is of a tall mountain eroded over time, until it is leveled with the earth. We are ‘ground away’ by our earthly experiences, and so become open to experience God. To more deeply experience this moment, now. Grinding away the mountains in the landscapes of soul takes just as long. True modesty is embodied modesty. Which is to be differentiated from false modesty. If we are immensely fortunate, we may arrive here, in our lifetime. Modesty is the necessary container of enlightenment. Which is one reason why, for us mere mortals, it is essential practice to open ourselves constantly, to stay close, to a real sense of the fundamental uncertainty of our existence.
Truly ‘being present’ tears ego apart
Opening to the depths of ‘what is’, is not an easy matter. It certainly is not, nor is it about, the harmony or bliss that much of new-age spirituality tries to sell. Various spiritual traditions have told us that God's power is so vast, we cannot survive meeting God in God’s fullness. God of the Torah and old Testament told Moses that no man can see God's face and live.
This theme is echoed in the story from Greek mythology, of mortal Semele who instantly incinerates when she comes face-to-face with ‘the full glory of Zeus’. After she tricked Zeus into revealing himself to her in his fullness. At this point, she is pregnant with their child, Dionysus. As she dies, Zeus extricates his son out of Semele’s body and inserts him into his own hip, where he bears his son to full term.
Soon after his birth, Dionysus is torn to pieces by the Titans, the ‘old gods’, the ones who ruled existence before Zeus's generation of gods, the Olympians. Saturn was the overlord of the Titans. He embodies energies of ‘the old Fathers,’ ‘Time,’ ‘Limitation,’ ‘Rules,’ and ‘rational patriarchy’. In other words, Saturn is archetypally related to God of the Old Testament. And significantly, Satan derived his name from Saturn. So, Saturn embodies both the good and evil of that God. At the same time, Saturn points to the kind of culture that tears ‘the lord of soul’ to pieces.
The lord of soul
Many an authority on soul has referred to Dionysus as ‘the lord of soul’. Like Jesus of Nazareth, he is a son of divinity and a mortal woman. And, he dies and is reborn. Of particular significance is the manner of his death: dismemberment. It is a metaphor of the very experience one has when undergoing a transformation that leads to ‘a deepening into soul’, which really always amounts to no less than death and rebirth. By opening to the difficult tensions between opposite powers inside us, we are psychologically dismembered. And so we are initiated into being capable of deeper presence with our experience of the endlessly flowing moment.
In other words, the story of Dionysus is a pattern for the authentic journey of the soul. The sufferings sketched by his story – his own dismemberment and his mother's fiery death – are symbols for the psychological experiences by which the soul is shaped and matured. After Dionysus is dismembered, Zeus finds his heart still intact and from it brings him back to life. The ‘path of heart’ involves initiatory death-and-rebirth experiences. When we genuinely surrender into presence with ‘what is’, we regularly experience moments of ‘burning’ or ‘painful tearing’ of our deepest beings.
‘Titanism’ represents cultures intent on power. It has ‘no time’ for the transformations that opening into soul requires. It is a culture of ‘bigger, better, faster, stronger.’ Of titanic expansion. Endless growth. It is one of the roots of egotistical existence. The birth of Dionysus represents a shift in collective consciousness that our world has not yet embodied. This story currently seems to be approaching a climax. As always, when we don't heed the necessities of soul, we fall ill. If we continue to avoid our authentic psychological dismemberment, our world will literally be dismembered.
Loosening the hold of Titanism on our beings
One meaning of the name Dionysus, is ‘the loosener’. In our Titanic culture he is generally sneered at as Bacchus, ‘the God of wine and revelry.’ Which turns a blind eye to the fact that he only imbibed wine temporarily, during a particular phase of his story. It also literalisesπ the symbol. For really, it is not about the wine, but the kind of process we undergo when we learn to dissolve, open or loosen into less literal-minded consciousness.
In fact, literal addiction to alcohol is often a symptom of someone stuck in egotistical hardness, while soul urgently longs for them to open. Psyche has arrived at a point where she will no longer indulge their literalness. Their literal-mindedness have become unbearable. They crave the relief that wine brings. Paradoxically, the more alcohol they literally drink, the more this exacerbates their psychological hardness.
What is truly required, is the dismemberment and death experience that comes from stopping. To surrender into that. To allow it to dismember the hardness in our beings. Of course, this hardness is intricately enmeshed with our identity, with our deepest embodied beliefs and life-attitudes. This dismemberment involves no less than the death of who we have come to be. If we surrender into this process, we may be ‘reborn’. Maybe. There are no guarantees. Ultimately, whether the final doorway opens is a mystery, perhaps even a question of ‘Grace’.
Of course, being so dissolved by addiction to wine, is a metaphor. This process is universal. For even those who regard themselves to have no addictions, nearly all of them, are still addicted to their identities. Dionysian dismemberment, ultimately serve dissolution of our addiction to ‘me, myself and I’. To always compulsively ‘protecting what is mine.’ In this it resembles the teachings and spirit of Buddhism.
Opening to God
And so our life is a journey of opening to the sacred river that flows through all existence. It is significant that Jung sometimes called the instinct for religion, ‘the creative instinct’. This seeming inconsistency reveals how to recognise when we've truly opened into God: our imagination comes alive. We feel as if we're experiencing in three dimensions for the first time.
Dionysus is also ‘the dancer’. We are loosened into ‘fluidly dancing’ with all of existence. Opening into presence in ‘the now’ involves all of ‘what is’. It is not just opening to what we judge to be ‘good’, ‘healthy’ or ‘right’. It is ego who feels itself entitled to filter ‘what is’ through our own personal preferences. Also known as ‘prejudices’. But who are we to dismiss any aspect of what exists? The words ‘holy’ and ‘heal’ are kin to the word ‘whole.’ Which cannot exclude anything. Opening to God involves ‘the full catastrophe,’ as Zorba put it.
Going down this deep into ‘the now’, not only demands mental ‘presence’. It involves our entire beings and lives. Among other things, it requires cleaning up our everyday lifestyles. For if we consume bad food or live in a cluttered environment, this lack of love for ourselves will leave us inwardly polluted. And our ability to open will be limited. It also requires a good measure of skill. For ‘the now’ is infinitely deep and we can easily get lost here. And it requires a good measure of gentleness and subtlety. For imagination and soulfulness wither under heavy-handedness, like a coral reef in acidic water.
God is unfathomable
So, ‘God’ is vast and unfathomable and not simply a grumpy old man with a beard. Nor a benevolent mother or father figure who will take care of my personal wishes. As if I am somehow especially deserving! This God is not only ‘good’, nor only masculine, nor the only God. All such limitations of God are insults to God's vastness and complexity. God is experienced. And anyone who has truly experienced the Tao,π the unconscious,π the nagual,π the primordial mirror,π drala,π God, the archetypes, the imaginalπ or whatever we wish to call the authentic religious experience, has no need to argue about ‘whether God exists or not’. The experience is real and no amount of argument can take it away.