Jung Today: Reflections on Marion Woodman


Marion Woodman, Jungian Analyst and Author
Marion Woodman, Jungian Analyst and Author

Copyright © Michael Clark, 2010. All rights reserved.

Marion Woodman is an influential Jungian analyst and author whose publications include Addiction to Perfection and the popular The Pregnant Virgin.

Archetypes and Power

In a post-9/11 address about Jungian theory and terrorism, Woodman says the concept of the archetype is “bandied about” today and tries to clarify this elusive concept.

As the chromosomes are to the body,” she says, “archetypes are to consciousness.”

Woodman draws an analogy by asking us to imagine we’re holding a magnet underneath a piece of paper which has iron filings on top. When the magnet moves, the filings move along with it.

And so it is, she says, with archetypes and ego-consciousness.

The magnet below the paper represents the archetypal forces that have a dramatic impact on our daytime outlook. Or they may have an impact if we don’t recognize and tame their power.

Jungians believe that healthy ego development entails learning how to come to grips with the archetypes, thereby increasing mastery over one’s entire inner-outer environment.

For Woodman, the vast majority of Western peoples are blinded by a limiting Freudian worldview. Jungians tend to see Freud’s theories as a product of constricted psychic energy, contributing to an inadequate understanding of self and others.

Once we become aware of the archetypes, Woodman says life takes us into entirely new realms. We leave the proverbial river of Freudian theory and embark on the sea of Jungian psychology.

As Jungian Daryl Sharp once put it, the new joys and dangers of the archetypal ocean are quite real but some succumb to its destructive forces if the ego can’t keep step with a host of mysterious, invisible powers.¹

Conflict, Projection and Difference

Einstein once said, “everything in our world has changed except our thinking.”

Woodman relates this aphorism to global terrorism. While it’s pretty clear that humanity is essentially one big family, in terrorism and times of war our limited attitudes, influenced by archetypal energies, insist on projecting the embodiment of pure evil onto some other person or group.

This is Woodman’s and the general Jungian take on conflict. But it might be a bit simplistic. Could not one person or political regime, for instance, be more destructive, imbalanced and oppressive than another?

A further point for debate arises with the perception, sometimes advanced within Jungian circles, that all spiritual paths are the same.

Jung, himself, stressed individual difference. He also saw important differences among Eastern and Western religions.² While Jung encouraged individuality and knowledge (as gnosis), many of his adherents seem to have fallen into a convenient Jungian paradigm.

Just like the Christian churches Jung once criticized, some – but certainly not all – contemporary Jungians tend to conform to ideas and discursive patterns established by the Grand Master, himself, almost as if Jung were a holy and infallible guru.

Jung, however, wrote in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections that he didn’t “have things fixed.” As a psychiatric pioneer, he blazed a trail through the psychological underbrush. And it’s a task for posterity to clear new conceptual pathways appropriate for the 21st century.

Along these lines, Jung apparently once said, “I am glad to be Jung and not a Jungian.” As a Jungian he’s restricted by convention. But as Jung he’s free to revise according to his ongoing thoughts and observations.

Watered-down?

Another impression I got from Woodman’s address is that she, like many Jungians, portrays a sort of watered-down version of Christianity.

Woodman implies that the supposed past glory of the Christian Church rested solely on the inspiration of sublime art and architecture. The Church, she says, once conveyed the numinous but only a long time ago. And she ignores all those who say God’s grace uplifts them within the framework of the Christian Church–not just 500 years ago, but today.

On this point Woodman seems to liken the aesthetic appreciation of statues, paintings and stained glass windows to the indwelling power of God.

But is appreciating created beauty really equivalent to encountering the power of God?

It’s easy to stereotype Christians as one great body of Bible-thumping fanatics or, perhaps, as regimented automatons too insecure to experience God outside of the authoritarian but reassuring confines of ecclesiastical structure.

But these common caricatures ignore the very real possibility that some Christians may be called into and flourish within traditional religious frameworks, as suggested by figures like St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton.

Moreover, we might ask if anyone can, indeed, exist without some kind of system in place. Perhaps the real challenge for our post-9/11 world is to understand and appreciate how various networks interact and potentially mirror our respective human strengths and weaknesses.

With this approach we might collectively identify and redirect the destructive, obsessed or deranged in the global community, thereby encouraging the much sought after qualities of progress, peace and love.

Notes

1. This reference is from an address by Sharp. If I remember correctly, the title is “Jungian Psychology Today: The Opportunity and the Danger.” When I recover the hard copy I’ll cite it fully–it’s currently deep within my library.

2. (a) Compare to Moojan Momen’s perspective as outlined in The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach, p.114, posted at http://www.vexen.co.uk/books/momen_tpor.html. Momen overlooks the possibility that an actual being, Mary, chooses to appear in Portugal while another being, Kali, chooses to appear in India.
(b) And consider Geoffrey Parrinder’s comment: “The wise man may not practise the same [magical or religious] cults as his brothers, but he can regard them tolerantly as helpful at their level, while he himself seeks the truth about human life and the universe according to the best knowledge and insight available” (Parrinder, ed. Man and His Gods: Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions, London: Hamlyn, 1971, p. 21). Parrinder arguably doesn’t acknowledge the scenario where the outside observer knows next to nothing of the subtle dynamics, spiritual knowledge, graces and complexities of another person’s cult. Indeed, the person inside the cult may see the outside observer as a presumptuous spectator who thinks they understand when, in fact, they don’t.

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