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.
The phallus, as the generative member, holds great importance in psychic life. Carl Jung says:
“The psychic life-force, the libido, symbolizes itself… through phallic symbols” (para. 297)
Phallus, like fire and the sun, “symbolize the libido” (para 298). These libido symbols are expressions and representations of the life force. As Coleridge says, the symbol “partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible.” The fire, the sun and the phallus are symbols of libido in precisely that sense.
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.
In the second section of Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung is taking us into the life of the mystic: a path of soul and of divine heart. Jung speaks of “the teachings of the mystics,” he says:
“when they [the mystics] descend into the depths of their own being they find ‘in their heart’ the image of the sun, they find their own life-force which they call the ‘sun’ for a legitimate and, I would say, a physical reason because our source of energy and life actually is the sun. Our physiological life, regarded as an energy process, is entirely solar” (para. 176).