The imago Dei [God-image] pervades the whole human sphere and makes mankind its involuntary exponent.[i]
~C. G. Jung
We are living in apocalyptic times. Our country and the entire world are in a state of profound dissociation. The opposites being completely split and polarized as they are is an expression of some deeper process emerging and being revealed to us. The inner meaning of the word apocalypse is the “uncovering of what has been hidden.” To quote Jung, “…the sickness of dissociation in our world is at the same time a process of recovery, or rather, the climax of a period of pregnancy which heralds the throes of birth.[ii]
Psychologically speaking, apocalyptic phenomena represent the birth, in full-bodied manifestation of what Jung calls the archetype of “the Self” (which, according to Jung, is an antinomy, an unconscious conjunction of opposites, containing both light and dark). In religious terminology, the emergence of the Self is analogous to the incarnation of God or the coming of the Messiah. Being a conjunction of opposites, when the Self, or God incarnates, the opposites split and become completely polarized. As Jung pointed out, “If God reveals his nature and takes on definite form as a man, then the opposites in him must fly apart: here good, there evil.”[iii]
The perfect symbol re-presenting this is the Christ event, in which God incarnated through one man over 2000 years ago. When read symbolically, as a dreaming process, God’s dark and light sides were completely split and polarized in the figures of Christ, who was totally light, and Satan, the embodiment of the darkest evil. As Jung said, “It looks as if the superabundance of light on one side had produced an all the blacker darkness on the other.[iv] Talking about Satan, Jung commented that he, “…represents the counterpole of that tremendous tension in the world psyche which Christ’s advent signified,” and that he accompanies Christ “as inseparably as the shadow belongs to the light.”[v] Referring to God during his incarnation as Christ, Jung pointed out, “Had he only given an account of his actions to himself, he would have seen what a fearful dissociation he had got into through his incarnation.”[vi]
The deep dissociation in our world today is a reflection of the inner split in the collective consciousness of all of humanity, and we could say, the mind of God, as well. Jung described this situation when he said, “All opposites are of God, thereby man must bend to this burden; and in so doing he finds that God in his ‘oppositeness’ has taken possession of him, incarnated in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict.”[vii] To the extent that this conflict is not dealt with consciously via the inner process of individuation, it will be unconsciously acted out and “dreamed up” in the external world in a destructive way, as is fully evidenced by what is happening on our planet today.
Christ on the cross is the perfect symbol of holding the “tension of the opposites,” as the cross symbolizes both the state of being “a vessel filled with divine conflict,” while at the same time being a symbol uniting the opposites. To find yourself genuinely imitating Christ is to find yourself going through a “symbolic crucifixion experience” where we gain, as Jung said:
“a growing awareness of God’s oppositeness, in which man can participate if he does not shrink from being wounded by the dividing sword which is Christ. Only through the most extreme and most menacing conflict does the Christian experience deliverance into divinity, always provided that he does not break, but accepts the burden of being marked out by God. In this way alone can the imago Dei [God-image] realize itself in him, and God become man.”[viii]
It is by holding the “tension of the opposites,” and not splitting off and projecting out the shadow does the Self incarnate through humanity. As Jung said, “This is the meaning of divine service, of the service which man can render to God, that light may emerge from the darkness, that the Creator may become conscious of His creation, and man conscious of himself.”[ix]
Because God wants to incarnate in humanity, the uniting of the opposites that are intrinsic to God’s nature must also take place in humanity, too. To quote Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton, “For we must see that the meaning of man has been totally changed by the Crucifixion: every man is Christ on the Cross, whether he realizes it or not. But we, if we are Christians [and, symbolically, we are all “Christians”], must learn to realize it.”[x] We need to wake up and recognize the deeper process (“every man is Christ on the Cross”) that pervades the entire field and is enacting itself through each and every one of us. Jung said:
Through his further incarnation God becomes a fearful task for man, who must now find ways and means to unite the divine opposites in himself. He is summoned and can no longer leave his sorrows to somebody else, not even to Christ, because it was Christ that has left him the almost impossible task of his cross. Christ has shown how everybody will be crucified upon his destiny, i.e., upon his self, as he was. He did not carry his cross and suffer crucifixion so that we could escape. The bill of the Christian era is presented to us; we are living in a world rent in two from top to bottom; we are confronted with the H-bomb and we have to face our own shadows…. We are cornered by the supreme power of the incarnating Will. God really wants to become man, even if he rends him asunder. This is so no matter what we say. One cannot talk the H-bomb or Communism out of the world. We are in the soup that is going to be cooked for us, whether we claim to have invented it or not. Christ said to his disciples “Ye are gods.” The word becomes painfully true. If God incarnates in the empirical man, man is confronted with the divine problem. Being and remaining man he has to find an answer. It is the question of the opposites, raised at the moment when God was declared to be good only. Where then is his dark side? Christ is the model for the human answers and his symbol is the cross, the union of the opposites. This will be the fate of man, and this he must understand if he is to survive at all. We are threatened with universal genocide if we cannot work out the way of salvation by a symbolic death.[xi]
Instead of “holding the tension of the opposites” that the cross symbolizes, however, the religious right splits off from and dissociates from their shadow, projecting out and dreaming up their own darkness “out there.” By then trying to destroy this darkness, they become possessed by it. Born-again Christians who feel that the apocalypse is soon to happen and are waiting for the “rapture” are missing the entire point. Fundamentalists who buy into end-time prophecies and are willing to destroy other people to prepare for the coming of the Christ are completely misguided.
We are in a very dangerous situation. Because of the position of power Bush and the religious right find themselves in, they can literally dream up and create the very apocalypse they are imagining is prophesized, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a perversely self-reinforcing feedback loop, the more death and destruction happens, the more this serves as evidence, confirming to them the truth that their deluded end-time scenario is actually occurring as prophesized. In a diabolical self-validating vicious cycle, Bush and the religious right are ignoring the role they themselves are playing in creating exactly what they are using as evidence to prove the rightness of their viewpoint.
Seen symbolically, when Christ is on the cross, God is in such an extremely dissociated and traumatized state that he is not just attacking Himself but is actually killing Himself, literally committing suicide. The cross perfectly symbolizes the mysterious correspondence and correlation between incarnation (of the Self) and the self-destructive nature of trauma. Is there a deeper meaning as to why our culture’s myth of the incarnation of God over 2000 years ago in Christ was in the form of a trauma, of an abuse drama (the crucifixion)? Is there a difference between God, who is one with everything and all, putting nails through his own body during the crucifixion, and propelling jet planes through skyscrapers on 9/11?
An overwhelming traumatic experience renders us incapable of integrating it in our typical way. Trauma forces us to re-create ourselves anew. Trauma propels us to not only create a new personal and collective mythology, but demands we connect in a deeper way with our mythologizing, dreaming, and imaginative powers themselves. The only way to heal from trauma is to assimilate it, which demands we radically evolve to a higher state. Trauma is therefore initiatory, as it furthers the evolution of the species. To say trauma is initiatory means that the experience of trauma itself is the very medium through which a deeper level of consciousness is potentially actualized.
When contemplated as a dreaming process, the fact that the apocalypse archetype is activated deep within the human psyche and is playing itself out collectively in our world means that the Self, or what some call God, is incarnating not just through one man, as it did through Christ over 2000 years ago, but is incarnating through all of humanity. Jung talked about, “…a broadening process of incarnation. Christ, the son begotten by God, is the first-born who is succeeded by an ever-increasing number of younger brother and sisters.”[xii] Christ was the first attempt by God to incarnate and transform itself. Now humanity as a whole will be the subject of the divine incarnation process.
We, as a species, have all been drafted into a deeper, more powerful archetypal, transpersonal process that has so taken possession of us, it is unconsciously acting itself out through us. We are all playing roles in a mythic, archetypal drama, what Jung would call a “divine drama of incarnation.” Jung said, “…it can be expected that we are going to contact spheres of a not yet transformed God when our consciousness begins to extend into the sphere of the unconscious.”[xiii]
God is incarnating through humanity, and in that incarnated form offers Itself as a self-sacrifice to bring about its own transformation─just as what happened to Christ over 2000 years ago. Jung said of this, “One should make very clear to oneself what it means when God becomes man. It means nothing less than a world-shaking transformation of God.”[xiv] The ordeal humanity is undergoing is the sacrificial act to bring about the transformation of Jung’s “not yet transformed God” entering the human sphere in search of its own transformation. By this self-sacrifice and self-destruction, God is bringing about its own transformation just as It did through Christ, though this time, instead of being incarnated in one person, God is incarnating in the mortal, fleshy body of all humanity. Jung, continued, “Just as man was once revealed out of God, so, when the circle closes, God may be revealed out of man.”[xv]
What is happening in our world right now IS the second Coming of Christ, what Jung calls the “Christification of many.”[xvi] Jung commented:
“The future indwelling of the Holy Spirit amounts to a continuing incarnation of God. Christ, as the begotten son of God and pre-existing mediator, is a first-born and a divine paradigm which will be followed by further incarnations of the Holy ghost in the empirical man.”[xvii]
God is incarnating through all of humanity, and what is happening in our world is both an expression of this deeper process while simultaneously being the conduit through which this deeper process becomes accomplished.
We don’t need to make this process happen, it IS what is happening. We simply have a choice of recognizing it or not. If unrecognized, however, we will continue to unconsciously act this process out (Self)-destructively, where we all become suicide bombers, killing none other than our(Selves). Being possessed by a deeper archetypal force and acting it out unconsciously is always traumatic and always results in self-destruction.
Jung felt that the “…incarnation of God─the essence of the Christian message─can then be understood as man’s creative confrontation with the opposites and their synthesis in the Self, the wholeness of his personality.”[xviii] If enough of us wake up to the fact that the archetype of the Self is incarnating through us, we can connect with each other and channel this process consciously as “collective reciprocal individuation,” in which we mutually support and strengthen each other’s lucidity and realization. This is to recognize that we are all interconnected appendages in the “mystical body of Christ,” to realize that we are not separate from one another but are actually all on the same side. This is to snap out of the self-perpetuating illusion of the fear-based separate self and recognize that we are one(Self). We can then collaboratively hook up with each other and work together to create a container so that we can metabolize this more powerful archetypal energy and express it creatively, constructively and compassionately. This is an evolutionary impulse offered us by the universe in which we are invited to participate.
We, as a species, play a crucial role in the divine transformation and incarnation process. Jung refers to the individual human being as “…that infinitesimal unit on whom a world depends, and in whom, if we read the meaning of the Christian message aright, even God seeks his goal.”[xix] We, as individual human beings, are the medium through which God reconciles, resolves, and reunites the opposites intrinsic to the totality of Its nature. Jung commented on this situation when he said, “Where else, after all, could God’s antinomy [contradictory, paradoxical nature] attain to unity save in the vessel [humanity] God has prepared for himself for this purpose?”[xx] Jung was articulating an entirely new myth of who we are in the cosmos. He realized that the prevailing mythos of our culture had become too literal, and hence, had lost its power to transform. Jung’s new myth of who we are gives humanity both incredible freedom and great responsibility, as everything depends upon whether or not we recognize what is being revealed.
When each of us goes inside of ourselves and deeply inquires into what is occurring, we will reach what Jung calls the deeper, archetypal dimension. We access this dimension when we discover that we are all playing roles in a deeper, eternal, mythic process, Jung’s “divine drama of incarnation.” This is to realize that our particular life situation, with all of its unique problems, is a lower-level reflection of the higher-dimensional archetypal realm. Our personal process is itself the doorway to the underlying archetypal process. When we connect with the deeper, archetypal dimension, it is as if we have stepped outside of ourselves. Our sense of identity becomes expanded and enlarged, as we find ourselves inhabiting the whole universe. We are being invited to stop limiting who we imagine ourselves to be, to allow our life to become imbued with a deeper sense of meaning. And like a dream, this deeper, archetypal process is literally speaking to us, and it is speaking to us symbolically.
Jung said of this, “Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul─the daily need of the soul, mind you!”[xxi] Jung pointed out that what gives true peace is:
“when people feel that they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama. That gives the only meaning to human life; everything else is banal and you can dismiss it. A career, producing children, are all maya [illusion] compared with that one thing, that your life is meaningful.”[xxii]
We could even say that connecting to the archetypal dimension in which we recognize we are actors in a divine drama is itself what the universe is prompting us to realize. This realization is to access the healing waters of the unconscious. We access this deeper realm when we recognize that what is playing out on the world stage is both a literal and symbolic expression of what is occurring within us. This is to realize the dream-like nature of the universe.
If Christ is God incarnate, no one could have taken His life away from Him against His wishes. Seen as a dreaming process, those who betrayed Christ, conspired against him or killed him, were less fully responsible agents than instruments or tools in the hands of God. There is a hidden correlation between evil on the one hand and the work of incarnation, salvation, and redemption on the other. God has mysterious ways of accomplishing his secret intentions. As Christ hung on the cross, Jung made the point that:
“The prince of this world,” the devil, vanquishes the God-man at this point, although by so doing he is presumably preparing his own defeat and digging his own grave. According to an old view, Christ is the “bait on the hook” (the Cross) with which he catches “Leviathan” (the devil).”[xxiii]
Seen symbolically, this is analogous to what is happening today, as after the 2004 election the “prince of this world” has seemingly vanquished all that is Good and Virtuous and has become ruler of this world. Might he be “digging his own grave” in the process?
The very process of mutually dreaming up the expected and prophesized apocalypse is itself the vehicle or medium through which we potentially wake up to how we─right now, in this moment─are collectively dreaming up our world. In other words, apocalyptic phenomena reveal something to us. Encoded in these apocalyptic times, in hidden symbolic form, is a revelation. Embedded in the horror of the apocalypse is a blessing waiting to be discovered.
The key to how our situation manifests is whether enough of us consciously recognize what is being shown to us. Consciousness itself is the agency through which both God and humanity become transformed and inter-mingled as one.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. Paul is also a visionary artist and a spiritually-informed political activist. He is the author of The Madness of George Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis,which is available on his website www.awakeninthedream.com. (See the first chapter, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of our Collective Psychosis). Please feel free to pass this article along to a friend if you feel so inspired. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections. © Copyright 2010
[i] Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11. par. 660.
[ii] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 293.
[iii] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 259.
[iv] Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW 13, par. 290.
[v] Jung, Aion, CW 9ii, par. 78.
[vi] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 694.
[vii] Ibid., par. 659.
[viii] Ibid., par. 659.
[ix] Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, p. 338.
[x] Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 219.
[xi] Jung, The Symbolic Life, CW 18, par. 1661.
[xii] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 658.
[xiii] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 314.
[xiv] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 631.
[xv] Ibid., par. 267.
[xvi] Ibid., par. 758.
[xvii] Ibid., par. 693.
[xviii] Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, p. 338.
[xix] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 588.
[xx] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 28.
[xxi] Jung, The Symbolic Life, CW 18, par. 627.
[xxii] Ibid., par. 630.
[xxiii] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 250.