Neo-Paganism, A Psychological Perspective II: Dr Jung

We humans, since our origins and in our very biology, are drawn to symbols, images, and stories. Even in these modern times, this remains true, merely taking new forms – and all religions are based in same. The brain’s frontal lobe functions with facts and information, logic and reasoning, education and the absorption of knowledge. The primal brain, however, and the subconscious, are pre-verbal and deal in pictures – and myth, and magic.

Wicca, a neo-pagan magico-religious framework developed in early 20th century England and with roots in Celtic mythology, is strongly associated with the concepts of Dr Carl Jung and analytical psychology. Many who identify as witches or pagans today, even if not specifically as Wiccan, speak of Jungian concepts such as shadow work, animus/anima, persona, the unconscious both personal and collective, dream analysis, archetypes, and/or synchronicity – though not always using those terms, nor necessarily understanding them deeply.

Other interests common to witches and neo-pagans of all sorts were areas of exploration for Dr Jung as well: shamanism, spiritual or esoteric practices, paranormal phenomena, psychic ability, and altered states of consciousness to include that induced by psychedelics. Dr Jung also held a keen interest in the use of ritual to manipulate one’s own and the collective unconscious, including the application of symbols, images, and other nonverbal input toward a clearly defined outcome. The collective unconscious, a theory posited by Dr Jung to explain a species-based interconnectedness among human minds that also crossed the barrier of time, can be easily applied to the collective practice of magic and concept of manipulating natural and/or supernatural phenomena by the application of one’s will.

Thus, a magico-religious tradition can be used for greater self-awareness and transformation. Many neo-pagans believe that the spells and other magical practices they do are very real, with concrete effects on themselves and the world around them. Others see this sort of work as metaphoric, consciously and carefully utilising the very symbols and images required of our primal brains in order to access and alter our own unconscious – akin to the work and philosophy of Dr Jung.

Comparatively, it would not be entirely amiss to suggest that Dr Jung would also have supported the influence of same on the outer world. Taking this just one step further into his concept of the collective unconscious, one can suggest a projected effect on humanity.

When it comes to Dr Jung’s other areas of study, shadow work, for example, is a very popular area among neo-pagans today. Dr Jung developed the concept of ‘shadow’ to refer to one’s unconscious, and all the thoughts, behaviours, feelings and experiences that we or society have deemed unacceptable and therefore suppressed. Shadow work, then, is a form of self-psychology in which unconscious material is accessed through introspective practices such as meditation, coupled with reflective methods like journal-writing.

Many neo-pagans, even those who are not deists or even religious, speak in terms of ‘goddess’ and ‘god’. For many, this is a very real and heartfelt belief; for others, it is a metaphor of animus and anima, or the masculine and feminine principles, respectively, that live within each of us. In today’s construct of gender fluidity, the idea that we each contain both masculine and feminine aspects is fitting. The animus/anima framework can also be applied to otherwise heteronormative pagan views such as ‘the sacred marriage’ (of god and goddess, though the metaphor is often broadened to king and land, human and natural world, etc), sex magic, chalice and blade, or shapeshifting.

Dr Jung’s concept of archetypes, or blueprints in the human DNA and unconscious, can also be applied to these deist terms, to understand them as human archetypes of ‘father’ and ‘mother’, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, or similar. The concept of archetypes can be applied to many other areas of neo-paganism as well. In the general arena of manifestation, or spellcasting, and in the category of working with entities in the spirit-realm, one can surely conceive of these as archetypal material.

As to the idea of ‘self’, considered by Dr Jung to be the primary archetype and our lifelong process of individuation, the practice of any magico-religious tradition is ultimately one of self-development and transformation, and surely one of identity. Much of what is often deemed by neo-pagans as ‘signs’ or psychic phenomena can also be described by Dr Jung’s concept of synchronicity, that seeming coincidences actually follow a universal, though acausal and random, principle. The concept of ‘persona’, the public image that each of us constructs, relates to the witch’s idea of ‘a glamour’ as well as that of shapeshifting. Another key aspect of neo-pagan practice, for many of its adherents, is the exploration of the full spectrum of consciousness by means of trance, meditation, ritual, and more, all of which can be utilised for ever-greater self-knowledge – a key interest of Dr Jung.

When so much of our current world seems to disempower the individual, from grave ecological concerns to extreme polarisation, dysfunctional systems, and a breakneck pace of life, not to mention a pandemic that has shut down the world for the better part of the past two years, it’s little wonder that neo-pagan practices are experiencing an unprecedented popularity. In its essence, such a system provides an approach to living that is ecologically respectful, empowering to the individual, feminist, and a framework which encourages greater psychological understanding, development, and healing.

So much to offer.

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