I have mentioned a number of times in this blog that I test software for a living. In software testing you are being paid to find bugs in the software and, although the quality of the software relies on the whole team and even the best tester can’t make crap software good, the tester is usually in the firing line when a bug makes it through to the real world. The dynamic is this: upper management finds out about the bug, usually because a customer complains, and they want to know how it got through. In their minds, it’s the tester’s fault. This makes sense as they are paying the tester to find bugs. So, they come to you for an explanation of why you didn’t find the bug.
Especially early in your career, this is a stressful moment and it’s often made more stressful because the bug is really obvious. It’s the kind of thing anybody could have found and yet you missed it. This looks really bad for you and you know that it’s natural that other people will be questioning not just your competence at your job but perhaps the correct functioning of your mental faculties in general. “Are you a complete moron?” they are probably asking themselves. “Only a complete moron could have missed this problem.”
Missing things that are right in front of our nose is unfortunately not just the exclusive domain of morons. It happens to the best of us. It happens because we only see in the world what we are looking for. This is sometimes called selective attention. For those who haven’t seen it, this is the classic video to demonstrate the concept. If you haven’t done the exercise before, make sure to follow the instructions without reading anything in the comments first.
Software testers must learn to mitigate the bias caused by selective attention by having a variety of heuristics or mental models that we cycle through. A way to think about this is a series of looking glasses that you hold over your eyes. Each will give you a perspective on the world but there is no one perspective that has the complete picture. The trick is to remember this fact and understand that there is always another perspective and always the possibility that you are missing something.
With these considerations in mind, we can say that Jungian psychology is just one lens upon the world and we need to be aware of where it fits into the scheme of things. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Jung and Freud introduced this lens to the modern west. Although there were fringe traditions in the west that had been dealing with the psychic realm for some time, there was little notion of the unconscious in the general culture. As the west began to learn about eastern traditions in the 1800s, it was noted that the East had a much more psychological bent.
Another way to say this is that the west was well behind on psychological understanding until Jung and Freud showed up. The 20th century was the time when the west discovered psychology. We set about putting the new knowledge to work in positive ways like psychotherapy where we help individuals with personal psychic problems. The knowledge has also been put to use in mass propaganda campaigns, advertising, government “nudge” units and other less salubrious agendas. Looking at the current state of the western psyche, you’d have to say that the lessons of psychology haven’t prevented society from being overwhelmed by malefic psychic forces; a possibility Jung was painfully aware of and did his best to try and mitigate.
James Hillman pointed out the problem in his book “We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy and the world’s getting worse.” Is this is a problem with psychology itself? Would it be solved if we only switched from the Freudian paradigm where repressed sexual desire causes all problems to a Jungian paradigm? Perhaps. But such solutions locate the problem within psychology itself and we must remember the point made above: psychology is just one area of study dealing with one aspect of life. Maybe the problem also lies elsewhere.
Therefore, we need to locate psychology within a broader framework and in doing so we’ll clear up an ambiguity that’s been present throughout this series of posts which is the difference between initiation and individuation. I’ve been using the two concepts as synonyms but, as we’ll see, they belong to different frames of reference.
For our purposes here, I’m going to use a bastardised mix of concepts. What we are talking about are levels of being and there are entire systems of metaphysics that go into this in great detail. My purpose here is to just provide a high level overview of the basics. With that said, here’s a sketch.
|Level of Being||Faculty||Field of Study|
|Spiritual||Transcendental intuition (revelation)||Religion (esoteric)|
|Mental||Intellect (reason, logic, dialectic)||Philosophy|
|Psychic (soul)||Dreams, imagination, art, visions, emotions||Biology/zoology (instinct), psychology|
|Etheric||Vibe, animal magnetism||N/A|
|Material||Body, five senses||Physics, chemistry|
Now, in some sense this table is a lie. After all, you can’t study physics and chemistry using just your sense organs. You’ll need to engage the mental too and, although modern scientists don’t like to admit it, the psychic also plays a role and so too does the spiritual. It’s also true that the levels of being interact with one another. Jung started out as a doctor and part of his research involved the discovery that problems with the psyche can also manifest on the material plane as physical illness. As far as I know, the mental plane hasn’t been shown to cause physical illness, although anybody who’s had to trudge through Kant, Hegel and Heidegger might disagree.
Jung’s life work was spent in the psychic domain but one of the things that differentiated him from Freud was that Freud was intent on explaining psychology from the “lower levels”. He wanted to show how instinct, especially sexual instinct, was the root cause of all psychological complexes. Jung, on the other hand, was always more interested in the interface between the psychic and the spiritual.
Sorting out the difference between the psychic, the mental and the spiritual is a very tricky business involving all kinds of tangles. The philosopher, Kierkegaard, for example, showed in a number of his works that you cannot reason your way to the spirit. No amount of logic or dialectic can get “access” to the spiritual and, in fact, when analysed in rational terms, the spiritual is absurd. He concluded that one must simply take a leap of faith. Others, including the more noisy atheists of our time, take the same observation and conclude that the spiritual can be dispensed with entirely.
If we take accounts of spiritual experience seriously, we say that access to the spiritual is through what we might call “intuition”; a kind pure intellect. Jung defines it this way – “The seat of faith, however, is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God.” (The Undiscovered Self, p.62) However, in other places Jung also says that spiritual experience is always mediated through the unconscious. This ambiguity between the psychic and the spiritual can also be seen in Jung’s calls for psychotherapists and priests to team up to deal with the psychic/spiritual problems besetting modern man.
To draw a clearer picture of the distinction between the spiritual and the psychic, we can introduce another thinker who was just nine years younger than Jung: Rene Guenon (thanks again to commenter Austin for the reference here).
I have been using Guenon’s distinction between the exoteric and esoteric throughout this series of essays. Guenon’s critique of the modern west is far more polemical than Jung’s. Jung was approaching the problems of the modern psyche as a physician intent primarily on restoring mental health. Guenon approaches the problems from a strictly traditionalist metaphysical point of view. Guenon would agree with the analysis of the archetypal Orphan’s journey described in earlier posts. He would call this “tradition” and further define the modern west as a deviation from tradition. In a healthy tradition, there is an exoteric system that orders society but also provides initiation into the esoteric components of the religion for those who are gifted in that manner. In modern society, as Jung had also noted, we have no tradition. In fact, we explicitly reject tradition and therefore we are without initiation.
For Guenon, the ambiguity between the psychic and the spiritual that can be seen in Jung’s work is a symptom of the larger problem. In a traditional society, the spiritual would be given its proper place above the psychic and would therefore keep the psyche in line. When this does not happen we get caught up in the “illusions” of the psychic realm and this inevitably leads to what Guenon calls the “infra-human” by which I am quite sure he is referring to the shadow side of the psyche. Why is modern society manifesting The Devouring Mother and the shadow side of the child? Because we have renounced tradition. That’s what Guenon would say.
If we return to the levels of being above, we can reframe these into an archetypal journey which ascends to the highest level of the spirtual. We begin in childhood in the lower realms of the material, etheric and lower psychic (instinct/unconscious). During puberty, The Orphan’s mission is to develop the higher psychic elements (consciousness) and hopefully also the mental capacities. In a traditional society, this is also the time of initiation into the spiritual. Thus, one must go “through” the psychic to get to the spiritual. The psychic is not the final destination. Guenon uses the metaphor of sailing. We must sail across the sea of the psychic to reach the spiritual on the other side. But the journey is dangerous and we need an elder to guide the way and teach us how to navigate (it is noteworthy that Guenon’s sailing metaphor matches exactly to the plot of A Wizard of Earthsea where the wizard Ged must eventually sail alone for the final showdown with his shadow).
With this in mind, we can finally draw a distinction between two concepts I have been using interchangeably throughout this series of posts: initiation and individuation. Initiation is the induction into a tradition for the purposes of attaining to the spiritual or metaphysical level of being. Individuation relates to psychic processes in the psychic realm. These will happen whether or not the individual is going through a spiritual initiation, although the manifestation would be different. Guenon would state that the current spate of psychic illness including the mass psychoses of the last two years occur precisely because of the absence of proper initiation. It’s possible for people to individuate in the absence of initiation, but a lot can go wrong. Jung made his career addressing those problems from within the domain of the psychic. For him and other psychotherapists, individuation is limited to that domain even though Jung himself was keenly aware that the root cause of the issues could very well be spiritual.
We can map these distinctions as follows:
|Level of Being||Process|
|Material||Coming of age (getting a job/place in society)|
For Guenon and other traditionalists, the correct ordering here is top down. Thus, the spiritual should provide the exoteric framework which orders the mental, the psychic and all the way down to social norms and ceremonies.
The archetypal story of The Orphan as seen in its purest form in The Matrix, Star Wars and A Wizard of Earthsea, operates on all levels of being. The protagonist is not just coming of age and not just individuating but also being initiated into a metaphysics which is a spiritual journey.
In mainstream modern society, we have no tradition and no elders who belong to that tradition who can guide would-be traveller’s along the journey to the spiritual. As a result, we are on our own sailing the seas of the psychic getting lost in the delusions of propaganda, party politics, advertising and marketing. These delusions are now starting to have an impact further down the levels of being and will continue manifesting on the material plane in the near future.
It would be tempting to think that we can just re-instate the spiritual and fix the problem but Guenon has some bad news for us and the news mirrors the diagnosis of Jung and Spengler. What they all seem to agree on is that we will see a new religiosity but it will not be a “true” spiritual movement but a counterfeit one. If Guenon is right, we will see a false idol appear before we finally bottom out to the end of the current cycle and begin the new. Jung also captured this idea with the end of the age of The Antichrist.
To revert to the story of The Orphan, we won’t be able to properly initiate until the appearance of the new idol who will be the real deal and will be the elder that leads the collective back to the spiritual and instigates the beginning of the new era.
All posts in this series:
The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning
The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype
The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction
The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation
The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer
The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths
The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes
The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play
The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix
The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion
The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link
16 thoughts on “The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link”
I’m glad you wrote this. Guénon has some chapters on Jung in different places; he is extremely critical of him and modern psychotherapy in general, because he thinks that by explaining the spiritual (transcendental) in terms of the un- or sub-conscious and the psychological in general they close off the only route ‘up and out’ of the modern predicament, and instead end up encouraging people to look for answers in the realm ‘below’ (e.g. the “sub”-conscious), basically, demonism (knowing or unknowing).
For him the Western instantiation of tradition is Catholicism. The Catholic church is not really in a good way right now but it is still around and it’s still possible to join it. This is what I’ve been trying.
I personally think ‘Pride’ and so on is some kind of first draft at the counter-religion. Especially the way that the movement talks about ‘love’ (“love is love”) but means it in the opposite way to Christianity (i.e. carnal love rather than spiritual) seems too much of a coincidence: what are the ‘odds’ that a movement would arise that uses the same theme as the traditional religion of its culture but means it in an inverse way? Someone I was talking to about this said that it makes sense because the only way one could tear the West away from its traditional (Christian) themes is by offering what appears to be a better version of them (rather than just setting up some totally unrelated themes).
Austin – I remember at a place I used to work they were encouraging people to wear a colour to work for pride day and the reward was you’d get a lollipop. Bear in mind, this was a company of professional engineers. The symbolism of the whole thing was an invitation to be a child. Meanwhile, there’s apparently an urgent need to teach 5 year olds about sex. So, we’re treating adults like children and children like adults. Even by a secular definition of satanism as “inversion of values”, that matches up. I guess the question is: does a movement to satanism (inversion of values) need a figurehead? Guenon seems to think such a figurehead will appear. But we’re doing a pretty good job of manifesting the inversion of values without one.
Yes, he thinks it will be the Antichrist (not necessarily the figure marking the end of the world, though, who knows, but in any case someone incarnating that ‘archetype’) – which seems plausible to me. If there is a progression of American Democrats: boomer – liberal; Gen X – progressive; millennial – socialist; Gen Z – communist — then that would fit in with Plato’s idea that the archetypal tyrant presents himself as a kind of “Marxist”, so that the Antichrist can be a would-be Communist leader, and it gives several more decades for the West to continue on its way. (Incidentally I’ve thought that it seems symbolic that Gen Z is named after the last letter of the alphabet.) Guénon says the Antichrist will be completely deluded and like an incarnation of falsehood (as opposed to Christ who was the incarnation of the truth), so someone who still believes in Communism in 2060 or so would fit the bill, I think. Of course I don’t have a crystal ball. With regard to inversion, I think if one looks carefully this is already present at the very beginning of modern times (e.g. when Henry VIII made himself, a layman, the head of the Anglican church rather than a clergyman like the Pope), and perhaps has just been expanding in scope since then. I think the Antichrist is meant to be the ‘culmination’ of that, so to speak, rather than the cause.
Thank you; very a propos. Was in a similar situation today.
I work with people; a world of psychologically instructed professionals getting overwhelmed by forces the elder-less profession that pays their bills has itself caused is what I’m witnessing every week.
I stick out, because I don’t suffer much from elderlessness anymore, hence my mood usually is a lot better than my coworkers’.
Which I just had to provide an explanation for, my boss being convinced that I’d already quit the job mentally and was now happily letting go.
Had to explain that I can work and nearly always be happy at the same time. Busted for oppressively high spirits.
Austin – interesting. There does seem to have been a speeding up of inversions the last two years: children made to suffer to protect the elderly, democracies becoming totalitarian, ability to travel the world replaced by inability to travel more than 5kms from home (that was an actual rule here in Melbourne). It’s all the state against the individual too which inverts the Christian formula. We’re worshipping Pontius Pilate now.
Michael – well, that’s another inversion. Bosses are now calling people into the office to explain why they’re so damn happy. It used to be the other way round.
Yes, exactly. It’s ‘Leviathan’ (Hobbes’s idea – literally a Satanic symbol according to both St Thomas Aquinas and the Church of Satan). And Plato also wrote that “democracy is the ideal place to find the origin of tyranny – the harshest and most complete slavery arising from the most extreme freedom”. I wrote a little blog post on it, perhaps you’d be interested: https://monkmanque.substack.com/p/lockdown-and-leviathan.
Austin – well said. The concept of “securing health” is almost a contradiction in terms. You can try and secure someone’s health by locking them in their home for a little while but quickly all kinds of other health problems will emerge. For example, the government here just announced they are quadrupling the number of mental health workers to try and deal with all the health problems caused by locking people in their homes.
Simon – I’m wondering what your version of having initiated looks like; what precedents you have in mind. To go through the psychic to get to the spiritual describes Eastern yogic initiatory paths (adopted by many Westerners w/ mixed results, as our culture has no shared frame of reference for sustained surrender of the ego).
Also, what do you mean by ‘idol’? Falseness is often implicit in the use of the word. Are you referring to an individual, as in a messiah?
Re the second religiosity, might VR, as a means of disembodiment, be a contender?
“It happens because we only see in the world what we are looking for.”
The first time, this was really obvious for me was, when a good friend bought a car, a Ford Focus. After I associated the Ford Focus with him, I was seeing this car model everywhere.
Shane – yes, false prophet/false messiah would have been a better term. Not sure about the initiation question. As you imply, we don’t have many templates for it in the west. Even Guenon doesn’t really talk about that much. He mentions the Knights Templar as an example but that’s a long time in the past. The esoteric Christians seemed to have been actively weeded out by the Church over the centuries and we’ve been left with no esoteric tradition. I could see VR and all the transhumanism stuff as a possible example of a counter religion except that I don’t think they’ll be able to pull it off logistically the way things are going economically.
Secretface – maybe they should have called it the Ford Unfocus (/dad joke)
Re. initiation. A lot of groups have initiation ceremonies. Secret societies, bikies, criminal organisations… Maybe you can only be initiated into something human size. Western society is too amorphous and big to identify with.
Re. transhumanism. I guess you’re right, in an era of declining energy a religion requiring something as stupendously wasteful as the internet is probably not in a good position. Still maybe on some kind of cargo cult basis it would have a chance….
Are we sure the esoteric died out in the west? Has it not just moved from the Church into the laboratory and the drawing board? Calculus, relativity, darwinism – these all look like transcendental revelation to me. The monks of yesterday are the lab rats of today, working away with religious devotion in an attempt to understand and (in true western fashion) utilise God’s creation.
The religion, philosophy and science of a culture are all reflections of the same thing, a search for ‘truth’ from a set questions based off of assumptions inherent from the culture’s beginnings. We are all initiated from birth in the west into the belief in the power of our science, technology and progress, and to trust the expert priests who hold the arcane knowledge. Those who are skilled in the arcane can go and become engineers, mathematicians, doctors or other members of the priesthood. A few people have written about how childhood vaccines (contraversial hot topic I know) could be seen as a religious sacramental initiation in the modern version of the western culture, hence why people defend them with a religious conviction (see Covid).
I dunno, it’s just the whole Corona fiasco revealed to me that most westerners are in fact deeply religious, they just don’t know it, and are therefore even more fundamental believers because they think their belief is based on self evident reason rather than faith. Perhaps the religion is satanic or inverted, but I think its more the original Faustian sprit with all the warmth and checks and balances removed. Contrition was the uniquely western original sacrament, because we acknowledged that due to our focus on the individual his/her ego and therefore individual guilt, we needed forgiveness. We don’t do that anymore.
Roland – that’s noted in the archetypal story of The Orphan too. It’s always a small group that does the initiation. The question seems to be, how do you ensure the exoteric structures are regenerated from below by people with esoteric experience. Democracy, education and even the church should have this covered. In theory, any bright up-and-coming politician joins a party and works their way up. Except we see that process get overridden from above all the time with the powers that be parachuting people into seats to fulfill some other purpose. So, maybe the exoteric structures just need to get destroyed every now and again when they cease working.
Skip – good point. I made a similar claim in a satirical way a couple of months ago – https://simonsheridan.me/covid-19/anthropological-field-notes-from-a-trip-to-melbourne-australia/
I think what’s happened in the post war period is that science is no longer renewed from esoteric understanding from below the way it used to be. It’s now just full of people collecting a salary and a pension plan and has become just as corrupt as the church ever was. Corona represents a turning point in that respect. Quite a lot of people will no longer believe in “science” any more and the ones who do will do so with the blind faith of people who are clutching at straws.
Roland & Skip – seems to me you’re using ‘initiation’ to refer to rites of passage in general; more loosely than I’ve been taking it in the context of these posts (Simon, I trust you’ll set me straight if I’m wrong), i.e., not just initiation into a social group &/or profession. In the sense that death is life’s destiny, the point of initiation would be to imprint that awareness unforgettably. An Eastern or yogic path would lead to ego death before physical death; a Western path – say, magick – would teach skills like astral projection, so death wouldn’t be a person’s first out-of-body experience. In a culture w/o initiations geared to expand consciousness beyond the life of the ego & the physical body, people learn to worship safety/acquisition. To the extent that traditional initiations involve physical, emotional & mental discipline/rigours, not just mastery of, say, a medical or statistical skill set, some group/gang initiations involving pain & violence come closer to the definition.
Shane I agree with you but I was just talking about cultural esotericism and spiritual foundations rather than individual development. A lot (most) of our professions (as Simon has noted) are really useless or superfluous to the functioning of society, so therefore there has to be some metaphysical belief system behind our culture motivating us to continue. So to exist as a westerner (to work) you actually have to buy into this metaphysic, even if you don’t realise it. From childhood, we experience quite a lot of potential pain and trauma from the education system which beats some us into submission, and we are told in no uncertain terms what it expected of us.
It obviously is now lacking a lot of spiritual depth, but in my opinion a semblance of the process is still there.
Skip – “so therefore there has to be some metaphysical belief system behind our culture motivating us to continue”
I don’t think that’s true. There is a belief system of the culture but to the extent that it is not experienced esoterically it becomes nothing more than an empty shell. That’s why the concept of bullshit jobs is powerful. There is no esoteric content there. The job exists for purely exoteric reasons.