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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Priapus: personification of the creative force

Mercurius-Priapus. Français : Mercurius-Priapus- circa 50 and circa 79. Heald at the Naples National Archaeological Museum. US Public Domain.
Priapus- between circa 50 and 79 AD. Naples National Archaeological Museum. US Public Domain.

 

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.

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Agni: archetypal image of the creative force

Agni and his consort, circa 1800
Agni and his consort, circa 1800. US public domain via wikimedia
It is said that Agni is the first-born; that Agni is the God of fire. Agni is an image of the creative force.

In the above image we see the Hindu deity Agni and his consort Svaha.  Agni appears in his dual nature, with two heads he faces both God and man.

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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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The mystics find in their heart the image of the sun

Saint Augustin by Philippe de Champaigne--1645-1650. US public domain via wikicommons.
Saint Augustin by Philippe de Champaigne–1645-1650. US public domain via wikicommons.
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).

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