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The Origins and History of Consciousness

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The Origins and History of Consciousness is an important and wide-ranging interpretation of the relations between psychology and mythology. Erich Neumann undertakes to show that the individual consciousness passes through the same archetypal stages of development that marked the history of human consciousness as a whole. He draws upon the full range of world myth in the illustration of his thesis, and his account makes unexpectedly fresh and lively reading in a field not always notable for these qualities. Neumann ends the work with a trenchant commentary on contemporary society.

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A: The Creation Myth

ePub

I. THE UROBOROS

II. THE GREAT MOTHER

III. THE SEPARATION OF THE WORLD PARENTS

Nature rejoices in nature.

For what the center brings
Must obviously be
That which remains to the end
And was there from eternity.

GOETHE, Westöstlicher Diwan

THE MYTHOLOGICAL STAGES in the evolution of consciousness begin with the stage when the ego is contained in the unconscious, and lead up to a situation in which the ego not only becomes aware of its own position and defends it heroically, but also becomes capable of broadening and relativizing its experiences through the changes effected by its own activity.

The first cycle of myth is the creation myth. Here the mythological projection of psychic material appears in cosmogonic form, as the mythology of creation. The world and the unconscious predominate and form the object of myth. Ego and man are only nascent as yet, and their birth, suffering, and emancipation constitute the phases of the creation myth.

 

B: The Hero Myth

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I. THE BIRTH OF THE HERO

II. THE SLAYING OF THE MOTHER

III. THE SLAYING OF THE FATHER

Nature subdues nature.

WITH THE HERO MYTH we enter upon a new phase of stadial development. A radical shift in the center of gravity has occurred. In all creation myths the dominant feature was the cosmic quality of the myth, its universality; but now the myth focuses attention upon the world as the center of the universe, the spot upon which man stands. This means, in terms of stadial development, not only that man's ego consciousness has achieved independence, but that his total personality has detached itself from the natural context of the surrounding world and the unconscious. Although the separation of the World Parents is, strictly speaking, an integral part of the hero myth, the developments which, at that stage, could only be represented in cosmic symbols now enter the phase of humanization and personality formation. Thus the hero is the archetypal forerunner of mankind in general. His fate is the pattern in accordance with which the masses of humanity must live, and always have lived, however haltingly and distantly; and however short of the ideal man they have fallen, the stages of the hero myth have become constituent elements in the personal development of every individual.

 

C: The Transformation Myth

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I. THE CAPTIVE AND THE TREASURE

II. TRANSFORMATION, OR OSIRIS

Nature rules over nature.

THE MYTHOLOGICAL GOAL of the dragon fight is almost always the virgin, the captive, or, more generally, the “treasure hard to attain.” It is to be noted that a purely material pile of gold, such as the hoard of the Nibelungs, is a late and degenerate form of the original motif. In the earliest mythologies, in ritual, in religion, and in mystical literature as well as in fairy tales, legend, and poetry, gold and precious stones, but particularly diamonds and pearls,1 were originally symbolic carriers of immaterial values. Likewise the water of life, the healing herb, the elixir of immortality, the philosophers’ stone, miracle rings and wishing rings, magic hoods and winged cloaks, are all symbols of the treasure.

There is one phenomenon which is of great importance in psychological interpretation, and this phenomenon we would call the typological dual focus of myth and symbol. This only means that it is the nature of myths and fairy tales to work in equal measure, though in different ways, upon contrary psychological types.2 That is to say, the extravert as well as the introvert finds “himself” portrayed and addressed in the myth. For this reason the myth must be interpreted on the objective level for the extravert and on the subjective level for the introvert,3 but both interpretations are necessary and meaningful.

 

A: The Original Unity

ePub

A. The Original Unity

(MYTHOLOGICAL STAGES: UROBOROS AND GREAT MOTHER)

Centroversion and Ego Formation

THE SECOND PART of this work is an attempt to evaluate, in the light of analytical psychology, the processes whose mythological projection we described in the first part. We have now to demonstrate the significance of myth for modern Western man and to show how it has assisted the growth of his personality.

Besides summing up the psychological developments dealt with in the first part, we here put forward a piece of speculative “metapsychology” by way of supplementing and amplifying our theme. The fragmentariness and known limitations of our experience should not prevent us from trying to take temporary stock of the situation and to discover the unifying evolutionary aspect which alone will give our individual findings their proper place and value. This is merely one among many other possible and necessary aspects of analytical psychology; but we believe that the evolutionary aspect of the archetypal stages is of importance not only for the theory but also for the practice of psychotherapy. The stadial psychology we are seeking to outline offers more than a contribution to the psychology of individual personality; for the psychological approach to culture, which puts the humanistic significance of Jung's depth psychology in its proper setting, would not have been possible had not analytical psychology advanced beyond the personalistic sphere into collective psychology. Before the stadial development of the ego discussed in Part I is subjected to psychological interpretation, we must make a few introductory remarks about the concept of the ego, about the stages, and about our interpretative method.

 

B: The Separation of the Systems

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B. The Separation of the Systems

(MYTHOLOGICAL STAGES: SEPARATION OF THE WORLD PARENTS AND DRAGON FIGHT)

Centroversion and Differentiation

THE FURTHER DEVELOPMENT of personality is determined by the splitting into two systems of the conscious and the unconscious, or rather by their separation, for it is only in the later development of Western consciousness that the separation takes the more dangerous form of a split. This development is mythologically depicted in the stages of the separation of the World Parents and the Hero Myth, the latter stage being partially contained in the former.

Through the separation of the World Parents heaven and earth are distinguished from one another, polarity is created, and the light set free. It is a mythological representation of the ego, poised between the lower, feminine world of earth and body, and the higher, masculine world of heaven and spirit. But since consciousness and the ego always experience themselves as masculine, this lower earth-world is taken to be the world of the Great Mother, and consequently hostile to the ego, while heaven is sensed as the ego-friendly world of the spirit, later personified as the All-Father.

 

C: The Balance and Crisis of Consciousness

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C. The Balance and Crisis of Consciousness

Compensation of the Separated Systems: Culture in Balance

IN APPENDIX I we trace some of the lines of development that lead from the original group situation to a collective formed of more or less strongly individualized persons, and try at the same time to show the role played by the Great Individual whom the myths represent as the hero. This development is paralleled by another, in which the differentiation of the conscious from the unconscious, their separation into two systems, and the emancipation of ego consciousness reach completion.

With this we have left the sphere of the dawn man and entered into the sphere of culture, and we now have to examine the cultural problems that emerge with the separation of the two systems.

The first part of the present section, dealing with “culture in balance,” provides a tentative sketch of the situation that obtains when the psychic health of the collective is guaranteed by “nature,” thanks to the operation of the same compensatory tendencies in mankind which can be shown to exist in the individual psyche.

 

D: Centroversion and the Stages of Life

ePub

Pilgrim, Pilgrimage, and Way
are but Myself toward Myself.

     FARID UD-DIN ATTAR

Prolongation of Childhood and Differentiation of Consciousness

IN PART I we discussed the archetypal phases of conscious development as manifested in the mythological projections of humanity's collective unconscious. In Part II an attempt is made to show how and why the personality comes to be built up in the course of human history, and in what relation it stands to the archetypal phases.

Now, in this concluding chapter, we must show how the basic laws whose operation we have been tracing in the psychic history of mankind are recapitulated, in modified form, in the ontogenetic life history of the individual in our culture.

Only a tentative sketch is possible, because we cannot here present the reader with a detailed psychology of childhood and puberty. Nevertheless, it seems important to give a brief outline of this development, because in this way the connection between man's evolutionary history and modern life, and the life of every individual, will become apparent. Indeed, this link between ontogenesis and human history alone gives us the justification for having ranged so far afield in our exposition of the latter subject, and for claiming at the same time that the real concern of this book is the treatment of modern man and his urgent problems.

 

I: The Group and the Great Individual

ePub

WE HAVE ATTEMPTED to clarify the psychological significance of the uroboric situation and to represent it as the original situation of the ego. Our task now is to show how the ego and the individual develop out of the group. We have in the first place to demonstrate the positive significance of the group for the individual and to distinguish between the group and the mass. The group is a living unit in which all members are connected with one another, whether the connection be a natural biological one as in the tribal group, the family, clan, and the primitive folk group, or whether it be institutional as in the totem, the sect, and the religious group. But even in the institutional group the members are emotionally bound to one another through common experience, initiations, and so forth. The formation of a group is thus dependent upon the existence of participation mystique between its members, upon unconscious projection processes whose emotional significance we have already discussed. Symptomatic of this situation is, for instance, the fact that the group members call themselves brothers and sisters, and so reproduce by analogy the original family group where these ties are taken for granted.

 

II: Mass Man and the Phenomena of Recollectivization

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IN THE COURSE of Western development, the essentially positive process of emancipating the ego and consciousness from the tyranny of the unconscious has become negative. It has gone far beyond the division of conscious and unconscious into two systems and has brought about a schism between them; and, just as differentiation and specialization have degenerated into overspecialization, so this development has gone beyond the formation of individual personality and given rise to an atomized individualism. Whereas on the one hand we see ever larger groups of overindividualized persons, there are on the other hand ever larger masses of humanity who have detached themselves from the original situation of the primary group and entered into the historical process. Both these developments tend to lower the significance of the group as a unit composed of persons consciously or unconsciously bound together, and to exalt the mass as a conglomeration of unrelated individuals.

Now, while the clan, tribe, or village is as a rule a homogeneous group descended from a common origin, the city, office, or factory is a mass unit. The growth of these mass units at the cost of the group unit only intensifies the process of alienation from the unconscious. All emotional participations are broken down and personalized; that is, they exist only in a narrowly restricted personal sphere. As has long been observed, in the place of a group or a people there now appears a mass unit like the State, a purely nominal structure which, in the manner of a concept, comprises a variety of different things, but does not represent an idea that springs as a central image from a homogeneous group. Romantic attempts to revalue or to reverse this development necessarily result in regressions, because they take no account of its forward tendency and misunderstand its connection with the historically positive evolution of the ego and consciousness.

 

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