Before deciding to write about Webster Cook and what my experience of serving and receiving communion is, I was writing about the psyche, which Jung called the “totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious” (CW 6, para. 797). I had posted a couple of diagrams of the way analytic psychology views the person and the psyche, commenting that the physical body is assumed to contain the psyche and to be integrally connected to it. What is not brought to consciousness in a forthright way or neurotically, through complexes, projections and the like, may well be manifested physically through various physical ills. As Yoda might say, “Escape the unconscious, one cannot.”
The collective unconscious is the deepest layer of the psyche. Some believe that an even deeper layer of the collective unconscious exists, a mystery level that can never be known. Perhaps the deepest, unknowable, unfathomable layer is the dwelling place of the most high, the universal Holy of Holies, or maybe just the void people disappear to when they die, if there is no God and no heaven and no return at all. Whatever the case, we can’t know what it is; so I’m left to write about the collective unconscious, which is at least somewhat knowable.
I wrote before that the ego is the conscious part of the self that, in effect, is the homeowner (or so he or she thinks). Put another way, the ego drives the car of the personality. Both the personal and the collective unconscious are inaccessible to the ego, who is always so surprised to discover locked rooms, secret passages, hidden attics and cellars in his orderly, accessible house. Try as your ego may, he or she just can’t find the key to these locked rooms.
If you’ve seen The Matrix Reloaded, the second Matrix movie, you’ll recall the little man called The Keymaster. This fascinating little fellow had all manner of keys in the cell where he was being held hostage, and on his person as he fled for his life with Trinity and Morpheus. I like to think of our egos as similar to the key master: beloved, endearing, darling and clever, but intent with a steely determination to survive, and full of keys to everything. Or so he thinks.
Have you ever had a dream in which you discovered an entirely new room or section of your own home? Read a folk or fairy tale, or perhaps a mystery or fantasy novel, in which the hero suddenly discovers a secret passage or a whole new world? This is the stuff of the collective unconscious, the Wrinkle in Time-and consciousness!
In A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, the authors write this about the unconscious (both personal and collective):
Jung did not regard the unconscious solely as a repository of repressed, infantile, personal experience but also as a locus of psychological activity which differed from and was more objective than personal experience, since it related directly to the phylogenetic, instinctual bases of the human race. The former, the personal unconscious, was seen as resting upon the latter, the collective unconscious (155).
If you’re familiar with temperament types at all, you’ll know that feeling types are much more subjective about their experience than thinking types, who are more objective. In Jung’s theory of personality, the conscious, aware, or enlightened individual will have achieved a workable balance between feeling and thinking. I think this must be because the ego, key master of all that is conscious, has come into relationship and cooperation with the archetypes, purveyors and symbolic communicators of all that is unconscious. Symbols, you see, are to archetypes what words are to people. Those who fancy themselves too objective to dilly-dally with symbols of any kind (religious, aesthetic, artistic, literary, etc.) do so at the peril of their own potential. They are surface-dwelling, shallow individuals. Know anyone like that?
You’re probably nodding your head and thinking, “Ah, so that explains it.” A person without symbols any more meaningful than the ones flashing across their television screens is working at perhaps 20 percent capacity as a human being. Think about the implications of living and raising children in a society consumed by commercial images and those that take no longer than two seconds to ponder.
The contents of the collective unconscious, that vast underground, cavernous pool that bubbles up and feeds humanity, cannot be consciously comprehended or identified. That pool reflects archetypes, their processes and their images. The language of the unconscious may be found in images, symbols, fantasies, and metaphors. I heard James Hillman say recently that, though psychoanalysts and psychologists and other mental health practitioners ought to be the modern-day equivalent of the shaman, able to heal by helping people get and stay in touch with their deeper, unconscious selves, we do not. Rather, poets, songwriters, and artists of all kinds are today’s shamans. When we write, paint, photograph using our inner viewfinder, we are dipping down into that deep universal pool. If we wait patiently and attentively, something will come up.
Theoreticians believe that the collective unconscious originated in the inherited structure of the brain and so cannot be controlled by the ego. It is manifested in culture, for example, and so we belong to one another in the largest sense. Adoptees, take heart; it is theoretically impossible for you to lose what adoption seemed to take from you. The genetics of the psyche are more certain and less diluted than biological identity, according to analytic psychology. One can know him- or herself and the ancestors by deep work with the unconscious, if one is willing and able; if one dares.
Because the personal unconscious lies on the surface of the collective unconscious, these two elements of the psyche can work together to manifest behavior and images in the individual. For example, in analysis, the analyst will work with the analysand’s dream images through amplification or association, drawing from what we know about ancient myths and symbolism to help put together the puzzle of the message the personal unconscious is trying to convey. If the unconscious can manage to help the ego (the conscious mind) to understand these symbols or images, the ego receives a key that can open his or her understanding.
Freudians and Jungians differ in their understanding of the contents of the unconscious. Freud believed that the unconscious was the repository of infantile, repressed, personal experience; Jung believed that the unconscious was more creative and functioned “in the service of [the] individual and species” (Samuels et al., 156). The unconscious has its own form of knowledge, thought, and behavior much like the ego has. Philosophers call this the ‘final cause,’ but put in layman’s terms, the unconscious may provide the “reason or purpose for something happening, the ‘sake’ for which it happens or is brought about” (Samuels, 157). The unconscious does not bring events about; but the unconscious may infuse events with meaning.
Put in conscious, ego-based terms, a person would speak of hope, aspiration, intention, or goals; in unconscious terms, one seeks meaning. This is the teleological point of view. The ego always begins with me and my perspective, then shoots its arrow there, or there; or over there with some hope, dream, aspiration, intention, goal. The unconscious is more of a receiver, a receptacle, a vessel waiting, an empty womb receiving the fertilized seed so full of meaning.
Jung, C. G. (1961), The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Samuels, Andrew, Bani Shorter and Fred Plaut (1987), A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. Routledge: London.
Photographs by © Suze Stern and Peggy Collins used with permission.