Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 28

Venus of Brassempouy, Musée d’Archéologie Nationale

"Primitive man impresses us so strongly with his subjectivity that we should really have guessed long ago that myths refer to something psychic. His knowledge of nature is essentially the language and outer dress of an unconscious psychic process. But the very fact that this process is unconscious gives us the reason why man has thought of everything except the psyche in his attempts to explain myths. He simply didn’t know that the psyche contains all the images that have ever given rise to myths, and that our unconscious is an acting and suffering subject with an inner drama which primitive man rediscovers, by means of analogy, in the processes of nature both great and small."

C. G. Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Translated from “Über die Archetypen des kollektiven Unbewussten,” Von den Wurzeln des Bewusstseins (Zurich: Rascher, 1954).

Jung thought that the collective unconscious was inherited but today we know that such a thing is impossible: all that gets inherited are the epigenetic switches that turn a gene on or off when they receive the appropriate species-oriented stimulii. As the unconscious is just that, it also cannot contain any narrative visible to the consciousness. So where exactly, within the collective unconscious, are the myths stored?

Earlier (op.cit.) Jung says:

"Primitive man is not much interested in objective explanations of the obvious, but he has an imperative need— or rather, his unconscious psyche has an irresistible urge— to assimilate all outer sense experiences to inner, psychic events. It is not enough for the primitive to see the sun rise and set ; this external observation must at the same time be a psychic happening: the sun in its course must represent the fate of a god or hero who, in the last analysis, dwells nowhere except in the soul of man . All the mythologized processes of nature, such as summer and winter, the phases of the moon, the rainy seasons, and so forth, are in no sense allegories of these objective occurrences; rather they are symbolic expressions of the inner, unconscious drama of the psyche which becomes accessible to man’s consciousness by way of projection— that is, mirrored in the events of nature. The projection is so fundamental that it has taken several thousand years of civilization to detach it in some measure from its outer object."

This passage is an expression of Jung's Christian Gnosticism which Wolfgang Pauli refuted. It would be impossible for me to give Pauli's views as expressed in his letters to Jung as they are so complex and their understanding is dependent on far too many antecedent references. I can, however, provide a more recent quote in which Pauli would have been in agreement:

"Gnosticism is the teaching based on Gnosis, the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive means. Although Gnosticism thus rests on personal religious experience, it is a mistake to assume all such experience results in Gnostic recognitions. It is nearer the truth to say that Gnosticism expresses a specific religious experience, an experience that does not lend itself to the language of theology or philosophy, but which is instead closely affinitized to, and expresses itself through, the medium of myth. Indeed, one finds that most Gnostic scriptures take the forms of myths. The term “myth” should not here be taken to mean “stories that are not true”, but rather, that the truths embodied in these myths are of a different order from the dogmas of theology or the statements of philosophy." The Gnostic World View: A Brief Summary of Gnosticism. (

Essentially, Jung saw God as "deity" while Pauli saw God as "psyche".

Tomorrow, the pigments at the Altamira cave, and how they could be studied so as to reveal the visual language of the artists and their world-view.

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