For “what has been spoiled by the father” can only be made good by a father[.]
Carl G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, par 232, referencing Hexagram 18 of the I Ching
Part I: The Six Stages of the God-image
In the introduction of The New God-image: A Study of Jung’s Key Letters Concerning the Evolution of the Western God-image, Edward Edinger outlines six stages in the religious orientation of mankind, tracking the evolution of the God-image throughout the history of the West.
Before presenting these six stages, it must be stressed that neither of them is superior to each other. They all have their efficient and deficient modes depending on the cultural and historical context, as well as the level of development of the individual. If anything, these stages coexist (well or badly) as historical layers in the psyche of the individual.
The first stage is animism. Initially, the God-image was experienced in a very diffuse manner by mankind through its relationship with animals, trees, rocks, rivers, etc. All of life was enchanted by autonomous spirits that could be related to immediately. Mankind was harmoniously one with nature but had yet to develop its own self-consciousness.
Almost inaccessible since the advent of modernity, animism can still be reexperienced through the childlike wonders of a movie such as My Neighbor Totoro (1988).
The next stage is a matriarchal stage of goddess worship. In this development, Gaia or any earthly symbol of the Great Mother became the centre of worship. The God-image became identified with the nourishing and cyclical aspect of Nature and women, by extension of being closer to the Great Mother, acquired the status of sovereign goddess to the exclusion of any kind of masculine development.
In such a horizontal society, where the mother was at the centre of attention, men were seen as interchangeable. For instance, the father had no conscious role in procreation: the child came from the mother through the mother, as if by reincarnation of her own flesh. Furthermore, there was no vertical distinction between man and divinity as the masculine principle was always subordinate to the life-giving fertility of the feminine.
Symbolically speaking, the myths of that period are defined by a son-lover of the Great Mother who is castrated or dismembered and then reborn like vegetation. This, according to Edinger, “represents the feeble state of human consciousness at this stage, which is still under the domination of nature and the earth principle, and hence is born but does not achieve full maturity, dies young and goes through the cycle repetitively.” (The New God-image, xvii-xviii)
Ouranos, son and husband of Gaia, castrated by his child Cronus (Chronos, Saturn). Read the myth here.
Once the matriarchal stage and his focus on agriculture achieved excess resources, large-scale communities started to develop and, with it, the emergence of a masculine principle. This is where “sky gods” entered the picture with the new stage of hierarchical polytheism. Kingship, as well as writing and advances in metallurgy, started here as they were unnecessary in the previous stages.
At a psychological level, the God-Image was raised to Mount Olympus, the highest peak of Greece, where a remote pantheon of gods would have their lively stories, interacting with mankind when needed.
The living presence of gods amongst humans was not mere storytelling but a real experience. For instance, when Achilles entered the battlefield, he carried a warlike anger whose numinosity was unmistakable. In such conditions, he was not a mortal man but Ares himself. Similar stories could be told about many other gods who each bestowed favors on their chosen protégé or intervened via divine possession.
Despite the relationship between the gods and man being a living experience, it was still marked by a fatalistic melancholy. Fate was decided by gods with little to no input from humans, as Julian Jaynes explains in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
“For Jaynes, the absence of consciousness is actually marked by an absence of self-volition. Bicameral people did not feel they were responsible for their decisions and actions, and this is because they were not conscious. The apparent causal agents in human affairs were not humans but gods. […]
[Jaynes] first points out that our modern concept of the will is entirely absent from The Iliad (the older of the two texts), noting that “there is… no concept of will or word for it, the concept developing curiously late in Greek thought. Thus, Iliadic men have no will of their own and certainly no notion of free will” (Jaynes, 1993, p. 70). At another point in his book, Jaynes describes the soldiers of the Trojan war as being “…not at all like us. They were noble automatons who knew not what they did” (Jaynes, 1993, p. 75). Here is the startling claim that up to this very recent point in human history, there was no experience of self-volition. Human will was “outsourced” to the gods.” (James W. Moore, “They Were Noble Automatons Who Knew Not What They Did:” Volition in Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind)
Fury of Achilles (1737), a painting by Charles-Antoine Coypel.
An inevitable problem with polytheism is the endless rivalries, conflicts, and intrigues between the gods who are as knowledgeable as they are capricious. This tension forces a process of unification to take place among them, namely the “one out of many”. And the one and only God who emerged out of this was Yahweh and his tribe of chosen people, the ancient Hebrews.
This fourth stage of tribal monotheism is a very different human experience compared to polytheism. Whereas Zeus was an impersonal ruler, Yahweh “was interested in man. Human beings were a matter of first-rate importance to him. He needed them as they needed him, urgently and personally.” (Carl Jung, Answer to Job, CW 11, par 568)
This development established an intimate connection between Yahweh and his people, or the God-image and the human ego.
Man and God attempting to reach each other in The Creation of Adam.
Christianity led the fifth development from tribalism to universal monotheism. The covenant that was reserved to one tribe became available to all, universally.
For this development to occur, for a universal God to be accepted by all people from all nations, the Incarnation had to happen in a highly dangerous state of dissociation. The ambivalent Yahweh had to become two: one all-good Son, Christ, and one all-evil Son, Satan. Only under this condition of being all-loving and perfect in every way would a universal God be accepted.
From this dissociative state, the eternal conflict between God and Satan entered the collective consciousness and is unresolved to this day. Whilst it favored a development in ego-consciousness by separating the opposites metaphysically, what started as a necessary differentiation has now become an unmanageable and destructive polarization present at all levels of society.
The irresolvable metaphysical duality of Christianity where no centre can hold. Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych by Jan van Eyck.
Initially discussed by Jung in Aion and Answer to Job, the painful realization of an unresolvable split in the God-image is becoming available to more and more individuals. The acute recognition that tradition cannot provide any answer towards the problems of the opposites leaves us with the dismal necessity that a new religious development is required once again.
According to Edinger, the sixth stage is thus individuation. The God-image is no longer expected to be only “outside” but hidden somewhere in the most inner depths of man. Usually by necessity rather than by choice, the ego starts to turn inwards and discovers the psyche as a source of direct experience.
The view of reality provided by the psyche, mostly by our own dreams, is much more ambivalent than the previous dogmas. The individual is faced every night with a personal mystery that will not let itself be uncovered without effort and, at the same time, threatens to violently break into consciousness if ignored for too long.
Individuation is barely a solution for the religious crisis looming over us because it comes with many yet unheard-of dangers, deadly pitfalls, and unsurmountable impasses. While it is deeply engaging to read and learn about it, the real work of dealing with one’s own raw material requires a fierce and sustained dedication that will make many abandon the task after a few weeks.
Only one thing is sure: a mature religious attitude towards the psyche and its opposites is required to go through individuation. What was taught to our forefathers can still be learned from them, as it remains true up to this point.
Part II: The Age of the Father
Since we left the matriarchal stage, a great emphasis has been laid on the masculine development of ego-consciousness. This is how we progressively left the Age of the Mother to enter the Age of the Father, an age where mastery of the mind (such as thinking and the use of will) was given free rein over nature, culture, and religion.
The purpose of this Age was to allow the individual to emerge out of the world of instincts into the world of the individual mind, simultaneously developing a sense of personality and uniqueness outside mere belonging to a collectivity. This was a necessary development but it came at great costs: individual development and separation from nature led many to a state of complete alienation. In the meanwhile, the feminine had to be veiled so this violent process could take its course, uninterrupted.
The veiled feminine, a silent witness for the past millennia.
Out of this difficult development, we are tasked with a new transition. Moving away from universal monotheism is equivalent to leaving the Age of the Father, something that has been announced for over a century.
When Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, many people too quickly resorted to the theological claim that God cannot die. By doing so, they have missed the core of Nietzsche’s prophetic claim: the Western God-image no longer belongs to the Abrahamic religions. Similarly to the transition out of the Age of the Mother to the Age of the Father, Gaia did not die but she no longer carried the God-image, meaning the development of humanity.
Whether Nietzsche’s claim has been understood and whether people are ready for a similar transition, the process is underway. The God-image is shifting or has already shifted. It no longer belongs to the Church—or to any church for that matter—and can no longer be found where tradition tells us it does.
In such a case, many individuals are stuck in an existential crisis. They can’t go forward but they cannot go back either, even if they tried. They feel that something is deeply wrong but, by fault of lacking any alternative, they remain within a worldview that is terminally dying. By extension, this is how we came to live in a world that is no longer alive.
This decaying worldview is what Jung refers to as the aging “dominant of consciousness”, personified in alchemy as an enfeebled, barren old king seeking renewal, something I have discussed already elsewhere. In one word, the aging King is the Christian dominant, the worldview of a trinitarian Father God that we inherited from the Middle Ages.
But this King was not always in such a weakened state. In his prime, the King was irresistibly powerful. It’s the passing of time that made it grow old and weak.
Drawing inspiration from Robert A. Johnson’s Contentment, the trajectory of this aging Father, of the Western dominant of consciousness, is best personified by Shakespeare’s King Lear, which I will attempt to succinctly summarize.
The play starts with a foolish decision from King Lear. He announces that he will retire by sharing his kingdom with his three daughters proportionally to how much they proclaim their love towards him. Following Lear’s request, the oldest daughter starts her speech and covers her father with flattery.
GONERIL: Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter,
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty,
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor;
As much as child e’er loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable.
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
The second daughter, Regan, gives another sentimental and flowery speech about how much she loves her father. This leaves the youngest daughter, Cordelia, with the unwillingness to make a spectacle out of herself.
CORDELIA: What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.
When asked to speak, Cordelia remains silent towards her father. Lear insists that she must speak and Cordelia responds.
CORDELIA: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less.
Cordelia loves her father honestly, without exaggeration. But Lear cannot accept such a quiet and simple statement. He enters in a rage, disinherits Cordelia and declares to her:
LEAR: Better thou
Hadst not been born than not t’ have pleased me
Cordelia (in the middle) after being renounced by her father (on the right, wearing white).
After banishing Cordelia, arguably one of the noblest characters of all literature, Lear hands over his kingdom to his two remaining daughters.
From then on, Goneril and Regan will reveal their true face towards Lear and treat him heartlessly. More power-hungry characters enter the play and more intrigues follow, all leading to the same results: Lear ends up insulted, abused, stripped of all his belongings and his dignity by the people who claimed their dearest love to him.
Having to leave the castle, Lear ends up in the wilderness. Miserable and overcome with rage, he appears to have gone mad. But soon enough, he turns towards his loyal servant and, for the first time, genuinely cares about someone else than himself.
LEAR: My wits begin to turn.—
Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?
I am cold myself.—Where is this straw, my fellow?
The art of our necessities is strange
And can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel.—
Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart
That’s sorry yet for thee.
Having lost everything, Lear has gained human relationships. For the first time, he gets out of his own way and is able to attend to the needs of others.
While this is not the end of the play, this is the redemption of King Lear. This is the transformation of consciousness that was needed to go through so that the King Lear at the end of the play would be different from the King Lear from the beginning.
N.B. The reader might disagree with comparing the end of the Christian dominant with King Lear for the simple fact that Christianity has its own redemption story. While this is true, it must be taken into account that talking about the resurrection is too difficult of a task. Instead, it was preferred to focus on the redemption of King Lear, a better fit in the context of this article.
In his swan song, Johnny Cash embodies the aging Father in both his cultural, artistic, and religious dimensions to deliver a message to the collective. Note the references to King Lear.
Part III: The End of the Age of the Father
In his 2018 book Catafalque, Peter Kingsley has continued the funeral process of the dying Father. This time, it’s not God who is declared dead but the whole Age. He writes,
There are times, as he said, when you don’t go on trying to fix or solve – when, not just with a difficult patient but with a whole age, you acknowledge there is nothing left to be done. Then, as great Sufis and alchemists have realized, even to pray is to interfere: it is an act of disrespect.
Peter Kingsley, Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity, p.443
With those few lines, Kingsley has laid over the entire project of Western civilization its burial cloth.
But who heard it? Who understood it?
And so it has to be repeated here in no less uncertain terms that the Age of the Father is over. It is deconstructing as I write. The creative powers are gone and its illusion of life is sustained only by inertia. And the longer the inevitable is delayed, the more apocalyptic horrors will be needed to finish off the Age.
The only choice that remains is whether one goes through the painful process of psychological maturation or not. We either have to kill our infantile psychology or we will erase ourselves from this planet at our own hands.
A catafalque at St. Peter’s Basilica.
In a 1955 letter to Protestant theologian Adolf Keller, Jung writes that “Aquarius is not necessarily benign towards man. As a double sign it has another aspect, like Pisces.” (Carl Jung, Adolf Keller, On Theology and Psychology: The Correspondence of C. G. Jung and Adolf Keller, p.202) and expands as follows:
“Regarding “this world,” my thoughts have been and remain not very encouraging, in fact. The prospect of mounting pressure in the unconscious towards mass murder in the grandest style is not exactly edifying. Transitions from one aeon to another always seem to have been melancholy and desperate times, such as for example the demise of the Old Kingdom in Egypt (“Conversation of the World-Weary Man with his Soul!”) between Taurus and Aries. Or the melancholy of the Augustan age between Aries and Pisces. Now we’re approaching Aquarius, about which the Sibylline Books declare: Luciferi vires accendit Aquarius acres! [Aquarius inflames the wild powers of Lucifer]. And even now we stand only at the very beginning of this apocalyptic development! I’m now a great-great-grandfather and can see those distant generations coming on, who long after us will inexorably live in that darkness. I’d accuse myself of the pessimism of old age if I didn’t know that the H-bomb stands ready, a fact that is sadly now indisputable. […] We can only hope for a miracle.” (ibid., pp.197-198)
Le Capricorne, et Le Verseau (Capricorn & Aquarius) by John Flamsteed.
With a weakened king, too many will be quick to exact their vengeance, attempt to take its place, or maybe even accelerate his downfall in the process.
This is not the way forward.
What we are left with is to manage the transition out of this Age with as much dignity and responsibility as possible.
In this condition, is it possible, dear reader, to move away from the cosmic drama just for a while and draw out some inkling of gratitude for the dying Father?
Part IV: Closure with the Father
One recent movie that attempts to bridge the gap between the dying Father and his successor Child, to bring closure to this difficult relationship, is Darren Aronofsky’s movie adaption of Samuel D. Hunter’s play The Whale.
Note: Spoilers for the entire movie ahead. It is highly recommended to watch the movie before continuing this article.
The Whale starts with an online class. We are introduced to an English instructor who teaches with his camera turned off. Behind the camera is Charlie, a morbidly obese man whose condition has turned fatal. Liz, a friend of Charlie and his only helper, warns him during her visit.
LIZ: You have congestive heart failure. If you don’t go to the hospital, you’ll be dead by the weekend.
You. Will. Die.
But Charlie has no interest in being helped. In his final days, what he cares about is to be able to reconnect with Ellie, his daughter, who he has not seen for eight years.
As to be expected, the reconnection between Charlie and Ellie does not go well. Ellie felt that she was abandoned by her father and that this attempt at restoring the relationship is opportunistic.
Observing the fact that Ellie is failing at school, Charlie resorts to helping her with her English essays as well as offering her money to keep her attention.
ELLIE: How much can you pay me?
CHARLIE: Everything I have, all the money I have in the bank.
As the relationship between Ellie and Charlie stabilizes a bit, Mary, Charlie’s ex-wife and Ellie’s mother, enters the picture. From their interaction, we discover the source of their divorce.
MARY: And I was left raising our kid and explaining to people that my husband left me for a man. […]
We both did our parts. I raised her, you’re giving her the money. It’s the best we could do.
We now know the source of Charlie’s self-destructive gluttony. It is the result of profound grief that was caused by the loss of Alan, one of his former students whom he fell in love with during his troubled marriage.
Alan was part of a New Life church that was run by his father. When his family and peers learned about his homosexual relationship with Charlie, they kicked him out of the church. This affected Alan to the point where he stopped eating and sleeping. Eventually, Alan was found dead in a river.
Charlie and Liz, who is revealed to be Alan’s sister, are convinced that this was a suicide and bear a grudge towards New Life church who rejected any responsibility in the affair by calling it an accident.
In the meantime, Thomas, a young missionary from New Life(!), has been trying to offer Charlie salvation.
THOMAS: Charlie, you have to understand. God hasn’t turned his back on you. If you accept him, he’s going to release you from this, he’s going to take your soul out of this body and give you a new body, one made of pure light. Don’t you want that?
CHARLIE: I’m not interested in being saved.
Given what happened to Alan, any attempt at conversion backfires on Thomas who has his own church-related family issues.
Indeed, Thomas explains that he got into a conflict with the leader of his church. He wanted to do more door-to-door preaching but the leader disagreed with this way of preaching. The conflict got so bad that Thomas ended up stealing the church’s money and left the state to preach elsewhere. Since then, Thomas got his eyes on Charlie, hoping that this would be the one person he would be able to convert and help.
As he was recounting his life story, Ellie recorded his speech on her phone. Using the internet, she tracked down his parents and sent them the recording.
While this could have made matters worse, Thomas announces cheerfully the next day that his parents have forgiven him and that he can go back home.
While all this is happening, Charlie is getting ever closer to death. Having rejected medicine and religion, the only thing that now matters to Charlie is unbridled truth and honesty.
For his last online lesson, Charlie makes an unusual request to his students.
On the day of the online course, Charlie turns his camera on for the first time, revealing his pitiful situation in a poignant speech.
CHARLIE: Well, your complaints have been heard. I’ve been replaced by someone who will no doubt have you rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, be more objective, less authentic, less you with every draft… But… Some of you saw what I posted. Asking you to write something honest. And the things some of you wrote…
Kristy, you wrote: “My parents want me to be a radiologist, but I don’t even know what that is.”
Julian, you wrote: “I’m sick of people telling me that I have promise.”
Adam you wrote, “I think I need to accept that my life isn’t going to be very exciting.”
You all wrote these… Amazing, honest things, I just…
I want to be honest with you now.
Now you’ve been so honest with me,
These assignments–they don’t matter. This course doesn’t matter.
College doesn’t matter. These amazing, honest things you wrote–they matter.
At this point in the story, it’s time to reflect on the religious symbolism that has been ongoing since the beginning of the movie.
Charlie is not merely an English teacher but an instructor of λόγος. He is a father, divorced to a woman named Mary and in interaction with a bird (standing for The Holy Spirit).
This religious context is reinforced both by a dogmatic element brought by the discussions with Thomas and a non-dogmatic element brought by the readings of Moby Dick. (See Edward Edinger’s Melville’s Moby Dick: A Jungian Commentary for an in-depth discussion of the Christian elements of Moby Dick.)
The character of Charlie then stands at the intersection of all these themes at once. He is both a father and the Father at the same time. And many times throughout the movie, the collective dimension of his character breaks through the content of his speech. In these singular moments, Brendan Fraser acts from the standpoint of the dying Father, delivering to the public a glimpse of the all-too-often inaccessible deity.
None of these isolated moments however rival the end scene, where the dying Father blesses his divine Child one last time before his Ascension.
The end scene of The Whale in its entirety.
Part V: Present and Future
The Whale is a precious gift to the collective. It offers an ideal state of affairs by reconciling the dying Father and his successor Child, thus helping to move forward the transition from one Age to the other. But this ideal state is nowhere being reflected in the current state of our culture.
It has been my observation that the dying King has not shown any attempts to voluntarily abdicate his position, share his kingdom, let alone bless his successor.
On his side, the successor Child has yet to grow up and be ready to accept the staggering responsibility that will be his.
Finally, the feminine has yet to be unveiled, which will be another momentous event for the collective consciousness…
In these uncertain times, we must then grieve the loss of the Father, both in its personal and collective dimensions. You will find below a short selection of works that have helped me to do so.
Endless Poetry (2016), by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The Father (2020), by Florian Zeller.
Men and the Life of Desire, by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade. Specifically James Hillman’s intervention in Part 3. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
L’Incal, graphic novel by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
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