The Sacralization of Psychology

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“Philemon”, Carl Jung’s personal soul guide

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.

— Saint Augustine

Wouter Hanegraaff describes Neo-Paganism as a “psychologizing of religion combined with a sacralization of psychology.”

“In Jungian fashion, the ‘gods’ of traditional pantheons are often interpreted as archetypes, and reversely the archetypes of the collective unconscious are seen as powerful numinous realities. In other words, traditional religious concepts are reinterpreted in psychological terms; but because psychology itself is embedded in an encompassing religious framework [Neo-Pagan] authors can avoid the traditional reductionist conclusion that the gods are unreal because they exist only ‘in the mind.'”

The psychologization of religion and sacralization of psychology by Neo-Pagans can be traced back to William James and Carl Jung. According to Robert Fuller,

“When William James interpreted the unconscious as humankind’s link with a spiritual ‘more’, he gave shape to a peculiarly modern spirituality. James’ vision of the unconscious depths of human personality as at once psychological and spiritual made it possible for modern Americans to view self-exploration as spiritually significant and religious experience as psychologically profound.”

“The ‘fact’ that God can be approached through our own unconscious minds suggests that only a self-imposed, psychological barrier separates us from an immanent divinity. The cultivation of receptivity to the unconscious is this as spiritually as well as psychologically regenerative act of the whole personality.”

According to Hanegraaff, Carl Jung’s theories “enabled people to talk about God while really meaning their own psyche, and about their own psyche while really meaning the divine.” According to Hanegraaf, the Jungian perspective is so strong in some forms of Neo-Paganism, a reader might be forgiven for thinking that Neo-Paganism is “little more than a religious and ritual translation of Jungian psychology.”

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Paintings from Carl Jung’s Red Book

Jung believed that the function of religion was to prove people with meaning. But religions of Jung’s day seemed increasingly unable to fulfill this task, especially Protestantism, which had purged itself of much of its myth and ritual.

Jung believed that psychotherapy could fill in this gap in people’s lives. Not just any psychotherapy would do, though. Jung criticized his contemporaries, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler because they ignored the “deeper spiritual needs” of their patients and put too little value on myth and religion.

Jung explained that, whenever a person has a “living” ritual or spiritual system that can embrace life in all its fullness and by which the yearnings of their soul are adequately expressed, then psychotherapy would be nothing more than an “adjuvant to healthy living”. But when religion no longer fulfilled this function, then psychotherapy had a greater role to play. Jung theorized that the invention of and popular interest in psychotherapy were proof that the religions of the day were not living expressions the psyche of modern man.

In his own practice, Jung found that most of his patients suffered because they had lost what the religions of every age are supposed to give to their followers. And they were healed when they recovered a “religious outlook”. This does not mean that they returned to believing in a creed or returned to membership in a church. Rather, they had to discover a “religious” process within themselves, they had to begin to live “mythically” again.

In Jungian terms, this meant that the archetypes of the psyche awakened to an independent and spontaneous life and began to serve as spiritual guides for the person. A religious person would look at the same process and say that guidance has come from God. Both describe the same process, just using different language. Jung writes, “To the patient it is nothing less than a revelation when, from the hidden depths of the psyche, something arises that is not ‘I’ and is therefore beyond the reach of personal caprice. He has gained access to the sources of psychic life, and this marks the beginning of the cure.”

Jung had a vision of psychotherapy as fulfilling a religious function in people’s lives. In a letter to Freud, Jung wrote about he pessimism for humanistic ethical fraternities and his vision of psychoanalysis as a religion of the future:

“Religion can only be replaced by religion. Is there perchance a new saviour in the [International Fraternity of Ethics and Culture]?  What sort of new myth does it hand out for us to live by?  Only the wise are ethical from sheer intellectual presumption, the rest of us need the eternal truth of myth.

“… two thousand years of Christianity can only be replaced by something equivalent. An ethical fraternity, with its mythical Nothing, not infused by any archaic-infantile driving force, is a pure vacuum and can never evoke in man the slightest trace of that age-old animal power which drives the migrating bird across the sea and without which no irresistible mass movement can come into being. I imagine a far finer and more comprehensive task for [psychoanalysis] than alliance with an ethical fraternity. I think we must give it time to infiltrate into people from many centers to revivify among intellectuals a feeling for symbol and myth, ever so gently to transform Christ back into the soothsaying god of the vine, which he was, and in this way absorb those ecstatic instinctual forces of Christianity for the one purpose of making the cult and the sacred myth what they once were — a drunken feast of joy where man regained the ethos and holiness of an animal. That was the beauty and purpose of classical religion, which from God knows what temporary biological need has turned into a Misery Institute. Yet what infinite rapture and wantonness lie dormant in our religion, waiting to be led back into their true destination. A genuine and proper ethical development cannot abandon Christianity but must grow up within it, must bring to fruition its hymn of love, the agony and the ecstasy over the dying and resurgent god, the mystic power of the wine, the awesome anthropophagy of the Last Supper — only this ethical development can serve the vital forces of religion.”

What Jung describes here closely resembles contemporary Neo-Paganism with its Dying and Reviving God and its ecstatic rituals.

Related Pages:

Carl Jung
Are the Neo-Pagan Gods Real?

Revised 5/13/14

5 thoughts on “The Sacralization of Psychology

  1. “Jung believed that psychotherapy could fill in this gap in people’s lives.”
    So, apparently, did Israel Regardie, though coming at it from a somewhat different angle.

    “And they were healed when the recovered a”
    ‘they recovered’

  2. Carl Jung has & always will be a huge influence upon Witchcraft and the Occult in general no matter what a persons practice or belief/s whether they realize this or not. It’s surprising to me how many Witches, Wiccans & Pagans etc. in general really don’t understand much about Jung’s “Archetypes” at all. IMHO Spirituality can be so complex & unique for each person that they both have so much important value. The value thereof depending upon the individual’s psyche. Along with their own belief system their own interpretation of them. Only though knowledge can we all truly comprehend ourselves and why we are both psychologically and spiritually. Great blog,
    Blessings,
    CazWytch.

  3. Pingback: “Why Pagan?” Part 3? Heretics, Heretics Everywhere. | Son of Hel

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