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  • Writer's picturepetermtyler

Carl Jung and Victor White

This week at the European Academy of Religion in St Andrew's I am due to chair a session on the Oxford Dominicans and give a paper on Victor White and Jung. Although I researched the two some years ago it has been good to get back to their stories. Below is an extract from the paper which I hope will be published at some point.

A Civilisation Adrift

Writing the Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido in 1912, which would cause his split with Freud, and during the build up to the Great War, Jung reflected on a civilization that had slipped its Christian moorings. The prospect disturbed him. ‘The world has not only lost its gods’, he concluded, ‘but had lost its soul as well’[1] (Jung 1971: 5.77). Such a collapse of the Christian faith in the general population will, he suggests, leads to the upsurge of an ‘antike Raserei’, the ancient fury/frenzy, and the old problem of Ausgelassensheit, licentiousness in a ‘Rausch der Entsittlichung’ in an intoxication of depravity (Jung 1912: 222 - 223). For, he suggests, these ancient drives, such as evoked by Nietzsche are ‘the archetypes, the forms or river-beds along which the current of psychic life has always flowed’ (Jung 1971: 5.228). Like the English poet, Matthew Arnold, Jung reflects on the mournful roar as the tide of Christianity subsides but also speculates as to why Christianity was adopted by Western culture in the first place. To this his reply is that it was

Accepted as a means of escape from the brutality and unconsciousness of the ancient world. As soon as we discard it the old brutality returns in force, as has been made overwhelmingly clear by contemporary events. This is not a step forward, but a long step backwards into the past... the beast breaks loose and a frenzy of demoralization sweeps over the civilized world. (Jung 1971: 5. 230)

Such early warnings were to come to a head in the 1930s as he watched with apprehension the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazis. This was indeed the return of the ancient Raserei and Rausch der Entsittlichung – here Dionysos transformed by Jung into Wotan – the inconstant Lord of ‘inspiration, madness, intoxication and wildness, the god of the Berserkers, those wild people who run amok’ (Bishop 1995: 284). This god will now rule the hearts of the German people and lead them to the brink of catastrophe. But still, beginning with his break with Freud and continued through his life work, he saw ‘the return of Dionysos’ as something to be countered by the homeopathic influence of therapy. Just as the Attics employed tragedy to tame the wild Eastern gods, now therapy will do the same in our time, as Bishop puts it ‘as early as 1912 Jung had set out his post-Nietzschean agenda for the transformation of faith into a secular, psychological religion’ (Bishop 1995: 107). As we saw, like Nietzsche, in some strange way the Dionysian is connected with the realm of the Mothers, the Urmütter – the same place to which Faust himself descends. This realm, the realm of the Mothers, is the source of the Raserei and libido together. As such it is to be venerated and enshrined at the centre of the psychotherapeutic process:

[The libido] is that part of us which is immortal, since it represents that bond through which we feel that in the race we are never extinguished. It is life from the life of Mankind. Its springs, which well up from the depths of the Unconscious, come, as does our life in general, from the root of the whole of humanity, since we are indeed only a twig broken off from the Mother and transplanted.[2] (Jung 1971: 5. 202/ 1912: 194/195)

For Jung, Faust’s ‘descent to the mothers’ reveals ‘the deepest roots of Faust’s longing’ as he descends to the ‘Ur und Allwesen’ of libido (Jung 1971: 5. 205/6/1912: 198/199) here reflecting the ‘Urwesen’ that Nietzsche describes in the Birth (Nietzsche 1990: 1.17). By tapping back into this Urwesen therapy, like religion, goes back to the libidinal roots of humanity. The same libidinal root that Nietzsche designated as the ‘mythic root of religion’ in the Birth that kept religions alive. Once modern religion, he speculated, had abandoned this root, it would wither and die:

For this is the way in which religions are wont to die out… the feeling for myth (das Gefühl für den Mythos) perishes and its place is taken by the claim of religion to historical foundations. (Nietzsche 1990: 1.10)

[1]Die Welt ist nicht nur entgöttert, sondern auch etwas entseelt.’ [2](Die Libido) ist unser Unsterbliches, indem sie jenes Band darstellt, durch welches wir uns als nie erlöschend, in der Rasse fühlen. Sie ist Leben vom Leben der Menschheit. Ihre aus den Tiefen des Unbewussten emporströmenden Quellen kommen, wie unser Leben überhaupt, aus dem Stamme der ganzen Menschheit, indem wir ja nur ein von der Mutter abgebrochener und verpflanzer Zweig sind.’

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