The Hero as Soul Image: aims and instincts

In Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung says that the hero myth “symbolizes the ideas, forms, and forces which grip and mold the soul.” (para. 259) The hero is an image or form of the living soul, expressing trials and tribulations as encountered upon the path of soul. While we often think of the hero in terms of idealized images of triumph and even of immortality, getting at the soul of the hero takes a more subtle insight. Such insight includes an understanding of the subtle realms of psychic life: perceptions that extend beyond idealized images, perceptions of the movements in the life of the soul.

At the time that Jung wrote Symbols of Transformation, Freud and Jung were engaged in a stormy debate regarding the nature of psychic life, each seeing the psyche from a different perspective. Their two perspectives formed two basic viewpoints on psychic life: the egoic and the transpersonal. This schism played out in their perspectives on myth interpretation, and particularly their interpretation of the Oedipus myth. Freud’s understanding was focused on the development of the ego, reflecting ego development taking place within the first half of life. Jung’s psychology was focused on archetypal elements, and his reading of the myths focused on the movement beyond ego, into transpersonal and archetypal motifs. Jung often took the perspective that the transpersonal aspects of psychic life were collective and biological, arising from evolutionary determinants. My aim is to read Jung’s writings from a spiritual perspective, understanding that archetypal images express the telos of the soul– the aims and instincts of the soul.

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Phanes: archetypal image of the creative force

Phanes, Francesco de Rossi, Il Salviati--16th century
Phanes, Francesco de Rossi, Il Salviati–16th century. US public domain via wikimedia
Phanes is an ancient image of the creative force. In the image above we see Phanes: eagle’s wings, cloven feet, of both sexes. A serpent coils round him, crowning his head, encircling an egg engulfed in fire.   He stands on fire, hair of fire.  He holds fire in one hand and a staff in the other, encircled by the Zodiac.  On his chest we see the goat, the lion, and the ram.

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Surya the Sun God: expressing the creative power of the soul

Suryatanjore
Surya receives worship from the multitudes; Tanjore School miniature painting, 1800’s. US Public Domain via Wikimedia
In the above image, we see a paining of Surya, the sun God, from the 19th Century. Surya is seated on his chariot led by a horse with seven heads.  He is surrounded by attendants and the multitudes praise him. It is said that Surya is the eye of the cosmos. [1]

In images of the cosmic person, Surya is one the eyes, contrasting with the moon in the other eye, representing the solar and lunar aspects of both the cosmos and psychic life.

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Ra: image of the vital force

Re-Horakhty by Jeff Dahl - (Budge 1904), based on New Kingdom tomb paintings. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.
Re-Horakhty by Jeff Dahl – (Budge 1904), based on New Kingdom tomb paintings. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

Ra is an Egyptian deity (2494 to 2345 BC). His name is thought to mean ‘creative power’ and ‘creator’. If we examine the image of the Sun God Ra we can see archetypal images associated with the vital forces: the hawk, a snake coiled around a (sun) disk, and the scepter. Notice also the Anuk, a union of a female symbol (the oval, representing the vagina or uterus) with a male symbol (the phallic upright line).

Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung speak of ‘libidinal’ forces arising from the depths of the psyche. Libidinal forces are the psychic and emotional energy associated with instinctual drives. Freud says, “the deepest strata of our mind [are] made up of instinctual impulses”(1914-1916). Sigmund Freud saw these impulses as are our desires, and most specifically our sexual desires.

Carl Jung noticed that the ‘vital forces’ are often associated with the God image, and are essential to the Self. Jung says: “If one honors God, the sun or the fire, then one honors one’s own vital force, the libido.” He adds: It is as Seneca says: ‘ God is near you, he is with you, in you.’ God is our own longing to which we pay divine honors.” (1916)

 

References:

1. Sigmund Freud SE XIV, Our Attitude Towards Death ((1914-1916)

2. Carl Jung (1916) Psychology of the Unconscious