"There are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us. The great religions of the world suffer from increasing anemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, and mountains, and from animals, and the god-men have disappeared underground into the unconscious. There we fool ourselves that they lead an ignominious existence among the relics of our past. Our present lives are dominated by the goddess Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion."
Carl Jung (On The Religious Function Of The Psyche- 1961)
I stumbled upon this quote quite accidentally while examining a book which my teenage daughter was reading. The book itself is called "Low Red Moon" by: Caitlin R. Kiernan. It is an occult horror novel, which I really ought to read and do a critical commentary on. In fact, as I have been undergoing a career change, literary criticism from my unique point of view, seems like an interesting endeavor to explore. But, as I embark on this new venture into literary criticism, I will start with this startling and profound quote by Carl Jung.
Carl Jung's primary claim to fame is as the founder of Analytical psychology. Its aim is the personal experience of the deep forces and motivations underlying human behavior. He was also very much an occultist, and many of his theories on the personality and consciousness, contributed to the belief systems underlying the Golden Dawn and other occult schools of thought, and were used as well in the development of the Tarot.
Aside from the known history and belief systems which guided Jung's ideas and theories, permit me to simply take apart this particular quote and analyze it from my own unique perspective. Having been trained from childhood in a whole assortment of esoteric schools of thought, and surrounded by an occult religious worldview; there are things which are clear to me, which would not be to the average person. So, it is on this basis that I offer my interpretation, albeit subjective, of this curious quote by Jung.
"There are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us. The great religions of the world suffer from increasing anemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, and mountains, and from animals...."
To understand the meaning behind this part of the statement, one needs to first have an understanding of the word "numina". The concept of "numina" originates within ancient Roman pagan religion. It literally translates to "presence" in Latin, and refers to ephemeral spirit beings who are behind the workings of the world. This concept was later developed into the pantheon of individual deities worshipped in Roman society, but can be applied to any intelligent spiritual presence or personification. It has long been believed in pagan belief systems, that there are specific deities or spirits associated with the various land forms
and animals on the earth. Many shamanistic beliefs revolve around the adoption of a personal spiritual animal guardian called a "Totem spirit".
Jung is saying here that because the major world religions have mostly turned from paganism, and no longer believe in the myriad of spirit beings that they once did, that these entities have abandoned us, leaving behind a spiritual void which weakens humankind with a sort of spiritual "anemia". This was the main concept behind the entertaining fantasy movie, "Merlin" (1998), starring Sam Neill. The major conflict concerning the characters in this version of the Arthurian legend is the movement of what could be termed the "collective consciousness" of the Dark Ages Britons, away from their old pagan belief system, to the new religion of Christianity. The main antagonist character in the film, the goddess and sorceress, Queen Madb fights to revive the "old ways", as she is weakening, and will cease to exist if she is forgotten. Her sister, the Lady of the Lake, accepts this fate gracefully, as the natural movement of time and the evolution of ideas. She makes this statement to Merlin:
"My sister was right about one thing. When we are forgotten, we cease to exist."
Jung states in dismay, that since we have caused these entities to flee, we can no longer call on them for help, and implies that the only spiritual fulfillment is to be found in paganism.
"....and the god-men have disappeared underground into the unconscious."
I believe the "god-men" that Jung is referring to is what esoteric thinkers often refer to as the "higher self". Jung may have referred to this part of a person as possibly a combination of noble "archetypes" , which he postulates form a person's "collective unconscious". This is described as the essence of a person's soul which in gnostic teachings is essentially divine. The goal of spiritual growth, in this tradition, is to ascend in spiritual thought and practice toward a union with this part of themselves. This is what is referred to as the "path to enlightenment". In addition to their shared monotheistic views of deity, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all share a belief in the fallen nature of man, which stands in direct opposition to the esoteric (lately dubbed, "New Age") views described above. Because these major world religions have eclipsed paganism for the most part over the last couple thousand years, the concept of inner divinity (the god-man) has been driven underground deep into the unconscious mind, according to Jung and others.
"There we fool ourselves that they lead an ignominious existence among the relics of our past."
Jung is saying here that we mistakenly see these ancient pagan beliefs as primitive, simple, outdated, and dead; but that the true essence of ourselves has not disappeared, but only lies deeply buried inside our psyches waiting to be awakened.
"Our present lives are dominated by the godless Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion."
Out of this whole quote that we are examining, it is this statement, with which this writer and Jung would heartily agree. During the era of the American and French revolutions a process which probably started during the Reformation, came to fruition. It was an era known both as The Age of Reason and The Age of Enlightenment. Logic and science replaced blind faith in God, religious teaching, and mysticism.
Thomas Paine was a key player in both the American and French revolutions through his writings. He wrote a pamphlet in the 1790's entitled, "The Age of Reason" where he vigorously attacked the Judeo-Christian worldview and the Christian Bible. His "god" was reason as you can see from just two quotes:
"Science is the true theology" -- Thomas Paine
"My own mind is my own church." -- Thomas Paine
Interestingly, however, the very thing that Jung calls "godless" and "tragic", is the very thing that has brought his ideals of spiritual thought full circle. The worship of Reason, is really nothing more than the worship of the Self. It is the elevating of our own minds and logic as the highest authority and moral compass. If one takes that a step further, into the deepest parts of the human psyche, here, he will once again reconnect with the divine, according to Jung. But when this quote was written in 1961, the flowering of the New Age Movement into mainstream consciousness had not yet occurred. If he could have held on another 20-30 years, he could have seen these spiritual ideas come full circle, and he would now be witnessing his lost "Numina" now returning and stronger than ever.
So, now it comes to this writers subjective opinion on these ideas. I am on my own spiritual odyssey, and I know not where, exactly, it will lead. Do I believe in the inner divinity of man? I have seen and experienced first hand human and supernatural depravity and evil to such an extent that I cannot accept that kind of idealism. I resonate more fully with Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz concentration camp survivor when he says:
"In the beginning there was faith--which is childish; trust--which is vain; and illusion--which is dangerous.
We believed in God, trusted in man, and lived with the illusion that every one of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark from the Shekhinah's flame; that every one of us carries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of God's image.
That was the source if not the cause of all our ordeals."
--Elie Wiesel, "Night" 1958
What do I believe? At the present, I have had to have most of my previous assumptions on the nature of God and his interaction in our lives torn down, and am in the process of building something new. For the time being, this is what I know I believe:
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic (Christian) and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
You will notice that the Nicene creed says nothing about how God interacts in our everyday lives. It speaks of one God, his redemption of us through Christ's death, and our hope in the life to come in his kingdom, both in heaven, and later here on Earth, when He returns.
Right now, this is the only firm hope to which I cling.