Archive for November, 2016

Jung’s impact on our culture

30 November 2016

Jung in Effect: Jung's ideas in the wider worldJung in Effect: Jung’s ideas in the wider world by Annette Lowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology looks at Carl Jung’s influence on society and culture: from creative writing, film analysis, spirituality and religion, through to marketing and public life.

In the Foreward David Tacey points out the pervasiveness of Jung’s ideas. For example, Jung developed the concepts of introversion and extroversion, of complexes like the “inferiority complex”; he originated what is now the Myer Briggs Type Indicator of personality. But as Tacey also points out, Jung himself is rarely mentioned, even within the professions of psychology or psychiatry. “Instead his major ideas have been relegated to small interest groups, to amateur societies and clubs, which do wonderful work in keeping the candle alive in dark times.”


One of Jung’s greatest impacts was in popularising the notion of archetypes. Annette Lowe discusses them in two chapters, on marketing and on creative writing.

According to the Jungian view of the world, we all draw on a collective unconscious, created in archaic times. This deep mental underpinning prepares us to pay particular attention to certain sorts of figures that keep cropping up throughout human history, in art and stories and in personal experience. When we encounter an archetypal figure they resonate deeply in our individual minds. Common archetypes include the Hero, the disruptive Trickster, the Mother, the Wise Old Man and the Crone. All have both positive and negative connotations. “The test of the vitality of an archetype”, Annette Lowe says, “is its endurance through time. So when we hear or read a myth or fairy tale, it resonates through to the archetypal layer of the psyche, and may also evoke our own feelings and associations.” She compares them to “templates” used to understand and organise our personal experiences. For example we may encounter the Mother in fairy tales as a wicked witch, or as a kindly tree that aids a heroine (my examples). Or, a picture of the Earth Mother or an encounter with a bossy librarian might set off the Mother archetype in our minds. And in any of these cases, we might also invest her with the longings, fears, anger or sense of well-being we received from our own mother.

Marketers, Lowe says, sometimes think that archetypes can be used to induce consumers to buy a product. This is largely mistaken, for while they can be used to make brands more memorable, they are not in themselves motivational. But archetypes have also been consciously employed, with more success, in movie series like the Terminator and Star Wars. We identify with an archetypal figure such as the Hero overcoming some formidable evil; the Hero might also represent our efforts to overcome some inner mental turmoil. The archetypal figure of the Divine Child can represent “hope and renewal”, “a future Redeemer”.

“Great writing”, Lowe adds, “has enough originality to bury the skeleton of the archetype-formula under enough contemporary ‘flesh’. The psychological pattern that the target audience unconsciously needs to see must be fully ‘clothed in modern dress’, as Jung says. Writing according to rules only produces great work if the writer also uses great originality.”

Elements of a real event that resonate with archetypes may be preserved and enveloped in mythic imagery, while personally specific elements fall away. Thus a real-life young man who fell from a cliff days before his wedding became, in folklore, the victim of a jealous fairy. This transformation took place within only 40 years, when the real events were recalled by people still alive, including his one-time fiancée.

Patrick White

David Tacey applies Jungian concepts to the literary analysis of Patrick White’s novels. “Each White book”, Tacey says, “is a variation upon a single myth relating to the figures of the Great Mother and her eternal youth. In every novel the same movement is established: the puer aeternus enters and is devoured by the mother-image.”

Many critics of White, Tacey says, “have claimed that the writer has made conscious use of Jung’s ideas and archetypes. This line of thought is entirely misdirected. White’s novels seem Jungian because the writer has in his own way drawn upon the deep unconscious and its archetypes.” It is not until the mid-1960s that White read Jung, and not until 1966 and that he tried to apply them in a novel, The Solid Mandala – only to misunderstand and misapply Jungian concepts. “I do not believe that White’s contact with Jung’s work was profitable: instead, it engendered confusion and presented a false lead to the critics. If anything it suggested that the author did not really understand his work, that the literary vision was autonomous and independent of his conscious intentions.”

The Tarot

Joan Snedden offers a chapter on the Tarot. After contrasting them to the familiar pack of cards (they are not entirely dissimilar) she matches the Tarot suits to “the four functions of Jung’s theory of types… Cups can be related to feeling, wands to intuition, swords to thinking, and coins to sensation” as well as to Water, Fire, Air and Earth.

People sometimes try to persuade us of the Tarot’s authenticity and power by asserting ancient origins to it. In fact, Sneddon says, there is no evidence of Tarot packs before the late Middle Ages. The Tarot’s real claim to antiquity and power lies in its ability to activate archetypal images of the collective unconscious, into which we then project individual personal meanings. She takes us through possible meanings for each of the picture cards, such as The Magician and the Fool, and suggests that the order of the picture cards can represent a meaningful personal journey.

I Ching and synchronicity

Jung, says Annette Lowe, “was largely responsible for making the I Ching known to the Western world.” It is a text used for divination. “The questioner throws three coins together, six times, and notes how many ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ are shown on the coins after each throw. The questioner looks up the result in a table which indicates the relevant reading to be consulted.” Its value is not as a mere trigger for our personal reflections, like a Rorschach inkblot. It connects us to something beyond ourselves.

There is “a synchronistic correspondence” between the psychic state of the questioner and the answer provided by the book. Synchronicity is a “meaningful coincidence”. Lowe quotes an example provided by Marie-Louise von Franz, a Jungian psychologist and scholar: “if I bought a blue frock and, by mistake, the shop delivered a black one on the day one of my near relatives died, this would be a meaningful coincidence. The two events are not causally related, but they are connected by the symbolic meaning that our society gives to the colour black.” It is not simply that the purchaser assigns a personal meaning to the black dress drawn from society’s conventional link between “black” and death. Jung’s approach is spiritualistic and religious, and sees the human world of language and culture as being connected to wider, external patterns of meaning. Lowe says: “if the individual mind does not shape a synchronicity, what does? Archetypal energies have influenced matter, and perhaps events in time as well, to create a synchronicity. Archetypal activity has the capacity to affect both psyche and matter.” She finds support for this approach in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Jung and Christianity

The Rev. Andrew Boyle writes on decades of experiences in the Uniting Church of Australia. He sees Jung’s worldview as a way out of the impasse in which the Christian Church finds itself, when confronted with the mysterious and the sacred in religious metaphor.

Boyle suggests that literal interpretations of the Bible’s mythological symbolism forces two untenable choices on us. Those who adhere to a scientific worldview shy away from such material in embarrassment. Christians who take this line find no more nourishment from Christian ritual than do atheists. Meanwhile, evangelicals and fundamentalists present Bible stories as facts.

Jung, Boyle tells us, recognised this problem but took a different approach to it. “He came to see that the psyche is developed and transformed by the relationship of the unconscious contents of the psyche with the ego. In individual life this is manifested in dreams and fantasies; in collective life through religious systems and their symbolic expressions.” Religious symbolism and ritual can therefore connect us more deeply to ourselves, to collective humanity, and to that which lies beyond. Jung said: “I have constantly revolved in my mind the question of the symbolism of the unconscious to Christianity as well as to the other religions. Not only do I leave the door open for the Christian message, but I consider it of central importance for Western man. It needs, however, to be seen in a new light.”

Other material

John Noack discusses Jung’s approach towards films, and his influence on film makers such as Federico Fellini. Noack also looks briefly at alternative approaches to film, and there is further discussion on the nature and role of archetypes.

Dodi Rose describes how a person with dementia was able to help others and get the most out of life, working in a supportive environment as a volunteer guide in a major art gallery. Rose’s account is framed within the Jungian concepts of individuation and the Self.

Other chapters go further into issues such as spirituality, homeopathy, astrology, and the Myer Briggs Indictor. There is a description of Jung’s role in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, while other chapters cover icons such as David Bowie, Herman Hesse and Jackson Pollock.

This anthology has given me a handle on ideas that I’ve heard about but never understood. It is not just for true believers: people who don’t adhere to Jung’s worldview will still find much of interest.

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