Friday, 1 November 2013

Accessing C. G. Jung 6(c). The contextual archaeology of symbols

Hut figure, rock 73 in Naquane area. Capo di Ponte,
(Val Camonica) Italy.
The mythological use of Jungian archetypes is dependent on surviving narratives, or a combination of symbols represented by a culture with no surviving narratives that can be favorably compared with a set of symbols from another culture which refer to a known narrative. We cannot usually reach a missing narrative through a single example of any symbol, and the more comparable symbols at a single site to a known narrative from another site (even where there can have been no direct communication) then the greater the certainty can be about the shared meaning. This lack of communication need not alarm us as symbols are visual metaphors and the choice of a particular symbol says something about its inherent qualities.

IThe Role of the Boar in Celtic Iconography and Myth I compared the myth of Meleager and the Calydonian Boar with the Irish epic story of Diarmait and the Boar of Benn Gulbain, but also added:
"Joseph Campbell tells of the Malekulans in Melanesia, where boars are sacrificed at Megalithic shrines as a payment enabling one to enter the Otherworld at death. The association of pigs, and especially boars, with the underworld, night, and death is almost universal. As animals that root in the ground, that are often dark in colour, that have tusks shaped like the crescent moon, and that are ferocious, it would be odd for them to have any other meaning."
While the purpose of myths is not to explain nature and cosmology, the use of such as metaphors for various aspects of the human condition is universal. Both of the myths in the article were, to a great degree, a telling of the hero's journey -- a Jungian subject that interested Campbell greatly. In fact, one of his most popular works is The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell). The title refers to the universality of the theme.

But there is another source of symbols: images that are generated in the mind and then associated with a theme after the fact. Included in this category is the work of  J. David Lewis-Williams on rock art: A Cosmos in Stone: Interpreting Religion and Society Through Rock Art (Archaeology of Religion) in which he focuses on the San (bushmen) of southern Africa. Lewis-Williams attributes the source of these symbols to images generated in the brain and optic nerves in various altered mental states (entoptic phenomena). This sort of imagery has also been applied to ancient Celtic iconography and perhaps has contributed to the association of Druidic practices with shamanism among some people. The problem is that through syncretism, over many generations, images that might have first been experienced as entoptic, were then associated with a quality. The knowledge of the source of the image can soon be lost, but as the quality always refers to a human and psychological condition, the metaphor can survive even changes in the mythological narrative as it passes from one culture to another. Thus merely identifying a symbol as having an entoptic source does not mean that the symbol in any given cultural application is directly generated as an entoptic image within the practices of that culture.

So what happens when we see and can identify something as a symbol, yet have no corresponding and connecting mythology? The mere fact of our identification of something as symbolic then generates an appropriate meaning that is part of our own mythology. I think that this is what happened in the coin and LSD art figure in Man and his Symbols. The myth that the images generated in the writer's mind were of the contemporary worries about the fragmentation of society. It is also very interesting that the caption writer also failed to identify the exact nature of those images: not only were the coins misidentified, but so were their connections. A further separation from reality was the missing description from the artist about their thoughts while drawing under the influence of LSD-25. It seems most likely to me that these errors were an unconscious expression of the disconnection with reality. I am reminded of a story I was told about a strange sighting in the sky: some people claimed to have seen a flying saucer, while the Roman Catholic observers of the same phenomenon reported seeing an image of the Virgin Mary in the sky.

No comments:

Post a Comment