Freud’s protege, Jung, was a lot more thorough in his research of symbols, their history, and their meaning. At the risk of sounding condescending, I am impressed with how well he understood some symbology, like in the following:
The meaning of the “ministering wind” is probably the same as the procreative pneuma, which streams from the sun-god into the soul and fructifies it. The association of sun and wind frequently occurs in ancient symbolism.Carl Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious, p.102
In the above quote, Jung’s commentary on air (ministering wind and pneuma) and fire (sun-god) shows he had understanding of theologies related to concepts found in the classical elements (see The Four Elements in Theology and Ancient Texts). However, his conclusion that this occurred because of a “collective consciousness” is a mystical explanation that overlooks two obvious points. Firstly, as any gardener knows, the sun and the air (or wind) are significance factors (along with water and earth) that effect life on earth, therefore, the ancients’ use of these principles to symbolise esoteric phenomena is not surprising; the fructification of the air by the sun is a natural phenomenon everywhere around the earth. Secondly, besides over looking the indexical level of the symbolism (see The connection between symbolism and mental wellbeing: The basics; Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) formulated his framework before Jung defined archetypes (1919) so perhaps he just didn’t know about Peirce’s framework due to no internet?), Jung overlooked the fact that Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Christians shared symbols and concepts (sometimes this was done peacefully, other times it was due to wars and conquests, e.g., when Persia conquered Greece, some Persian beliefs were transferred and vice versa), hence the similarities. (The writings of Iamblicus demonstrates this point well in regards to ideas between Egypt and Greece being shared). Jung’s marvelling of crossovers between ancient civilisations would be a bit like someone marvelling over the similarities of culture in England, Australia, and America without identifying the historical links.
The greatest point on which Jung’s theories can be falsified is on account of symbols being universal. He overlooked symbols’ ability to adapt and be appropriated by skilled artisans, like Tintoretto, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, and many others. He also overlooked artistic traditions (unspoken rules) and the history of art as a series of progressive movements. Arguably, Jung was so focused on trying to work out the mysteries of the so-called occult that he overlooked education and personal experiences as being foundational aspects of man-made symbolism. It is also possible that Jung, and his supporters, are so indoctrinated into a culture that worshiped Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories that their shadow prevented them from appreciating the infinite capabilities of human creativity. (Jung claimed the Shadow was the unconscious aspect of the ego; the concept has its roots in Ancient Egyptian theology).
Psychoanalysis also neglects creativity as being an activity that can be blended with humour, wit, irony, puns, and various other human qualities. Further, it is based on outdated framework of the mind in which creativity was believed to be housed in a specific part of the brain, not a whole brain activity.
Creativity as a problem solving process is well defined through contemporary neuroscience in the Netflix documentary, The Creative Brain.
Diagram of Jung’s theory of consciousness : all of Jung’s concepts are appropriations of ancient traditions. For example, Latin has gendered nouns; Anima is Latin for soul (feminine noun) and Animus is Latin for spirit (masculine noun). The Latin references for Anima and Animus are not the same as Jung’s, although there are some similarities. Jung claims the Shadow is the unconscious aspect of the ego; in Ancient Egypt, Shuyet, is the shadow self. Again, the Ancient Egyptian concept of the shadow is not identical to Jung’s.
Jung took concepts, names, and symbols from a variety of ancient traditions and effectively created a new religion.
Jung’s theories are not without worth, however, they need to be viewed in the context in which they were made: a summary and harmonisation of ancient theology. Moreover, his archetypes are stereotypes of symbology created by our patriarchal forefathers.
A genuine archetype, in the ancient Greek sense of the word, is a prototype; a model that can be built upon and diversified. For example, the first bicycle ever invented has similarities to today’s models but there have been many alterations and improvements. From wooden frames with no peddles through to penny-farthings and motorised e-bikes. Most bikes have some similar features in so much as they have two wheels (some have more) and they enable people to move from place to place quicker than walking. The point is, there is no universal bike, over the years there has been much diversity and improvements. Further, one also needs to question if a bike can be called an “archetype” in the first place. What did a bike evolve from? A carriage? A chariot? The invention of the wheel? A rock rolling down a hill? Or is a bike more like the evolution of horse? That is the way archetypes (prototypes) are supposed to be; they change. Jung’s theory that archetypes don’t change goes against the grain of human nature, namely, the creative spirit. (I explore this concept in The Big Bang Theory in Egyptian Mythology.)
Keeping on a theology level, Abrahamic religions present the symbolic image of the first human as being male (Adam) but elsewhere, like the First Nations people of New Zealand, their creation stories tell of the first human as female (Hineahuone). Therefore, putting it briefly, Jung’s claims of so-called archetypes, are harmonisations of predominantly European, Middle Eastern, and African mythologies, that can be falsified on the grounds of, if there’s an except to the rule, there is no rule.
People are diverse and our species is constantly evolving. If one wants to dip their toe into Darwinism, one could even ask, what were humans before being human?
My research suggests many of our ancestors perceived a dualistic approach to evolution, i.e., as the physical body ascended from “earth” and “water” and our ethereal essence descended from “air” and “fire” substances. That, however, is a simplistic way to describe and harmonise ancient theology.
To not throw the baby out with the bath water, Jung’s categorisations of archetypes such as ruler, creator, sage, outlaw, explorer, caregiver, and so forth can be of value in certain circumstances. They are relatable, easy to read symbols that have a shared tradition across westernised cultures. They are a language of symbolism that can be used to open up conversations and tease out ideas. The great danger is in taking them to be finite. Moreover, there is the risk that if they are taken as universal truths then they can be used to promote sexism and misogyny, as Jordan Peterson (1962 – ) does.
I do not disagree with everything Peterson says but his conclusions about the meanings of mythological symbolism is a perfect example of how psychoanalytic theories can be detrimental to understanding true history and genders issues. Peterson asserts Jung’s theories of archetypes to be correct and therefore are a means of justifying patriarchal values. I call out some of Peterson’s shallow research practices in No Peterson, Chaos is not a universal feminine trait found across mythology. Even more alarming is Peterson’s mis-telling of myths to support his sexist agenda of promoting the idea that men are naturally supposed to dominate women.
In a YouTube clip in which Peterson is giving a lecture to university students about Egyptian mythology (Jordan Peterson Tells An Old Story About Gods), he states that Osiris ruled Egypt and his partner, Isis, was the Queen of the underworld. He even goes so far as to say Isis is the archetype of a hyena and compares her to the hyenas in Walt Disney’s The Lion King. (Studying ancient theology by watching children’s movies is not an endorsed form of academia.) I suspect, Ancient Egyptians would turn in their graves if they had heard what he was saying. To them, Isis was their much beloved Queen of Heavens and a woman who possessed profound magic and healing powers. She was affiliated with the Pharaoh’s throne, namely because she helped her son, Horus, be a great leader. Conversely, Osiris was Prince of the underworld where he judged the souls of the dead with Anubis, a jackal-headed god who ate the hearts of deceased if they were heavier than a feather.
Throughout the video, Peterson states many eyebrow raising comments which, to my detailed understandings of symbolism through art, indicate a very biased and incomplete view of history and ancient theology. Further, his over emphasis on hierarchies diminishes other life principles, like harmony; at no point does Peterson acknowledge how much the Ancient Egyptians prided themselves on their emphasis on harmony. While nations rose and fell around them, the Egyptian culture remained stable for about three thousand years. In fact, the Egyptians believed their civilisation was robust and superior to others because they honoured harmony. Peterson’s projection of patriarchal values onto Egyptians symbolism does not reflect what most scholars understand, through the study of hieroglyphs, to be a culture that embraced gender egalitarianism.
Peterson’s oversights of theology can be further identified by Iamblichus of the third century, who was an Egyptian priest and Neoplatonist. When speaking to a Greek philosopher, Iamblichus explains that the Egyptians understood the Greek’s classical elements. However, where the Greeks arranged the elements of earth, water, air, and fire, into a hierarchy, the Egyptians believed the elements worked in equal proportions, in harmony.
In sum, my assessment is that Jung’s research is not completely wrong, but it overlooks some variables. Often, Jung’s supporters, like Peterson, miss some of the subtleties of Jung’s research, and in doing so create a situation in which misinformation is shared as being factual. The misinterpretations of Jung’s theories are more alarming than Jung’s theories themselves. (Peterson is seen by many to be an authority feature and he has a cult following).
As a final note on psychoanalytic theory, I propose that the “Joseph-Gigolo complex” be brought into formal psychology discussions. It is a condition in which the person believes in the validity of psychoanalytical interpretations of symbolism despite being shown scientific and historical evidence to the contrary. Another key feature of someone, usually a man, with the Joseph Gigolo complex is that they tend to polarise men between the binary qualities of being fundamentally noble and worthy of being selected by God to partner the perfect woman, and father a perfect child, whilst at the same time being entitled to have sex and attention from multiple women at the same time. Men with the Joseph Gigolo complex have misogynistic tendencies; they tend to view women as objects not human beings, ie., they expect females to be like Mary’s or whores.
Perhaps universities could set aside a few hundred thousand dollars to prove the validity of the Joseph-Gigolo complex. Of course, such research groups would have to be run by women because, as we all know, men can get overly emotional and testostical whenever proof of their gender fitting into a Joseph or gigolo category arise.
(Note: this is a satirical commentary inspired by the social media avatar ManWhoHasItAll.)
PART EIGHTEEN: Summing Up Symbolism