We explore religious and spiritual symbolism and how they influenced Carl Jung. Jung used symbolism in his work and bridged the symbolic and material world in his psychology. In this episode, we discuss:
Jung and Religious Symbolism Transcript
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I'm Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We have another great episode for you today about Carl Jung. We're talking about religious and spiritual symbols in the archetypes. A very juicy topic today. But before we begin, I do want to remind you, if you are listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, don't forget to subscribe on whatever service you listen to Soul Sessions on. If you have any comments, any suggestions, we want to hear from you, just post in the comments. We really want to hear what you'd like to hear more about and even ask us questions about what we cover in any of our shows. We're always reading the comments, don’t be shy. Let's get into it. It’s another powerful part of Jung's work, religious and spiritual symbols.
Robert Maldonado 01:18
This is where, in a way, he becomes very controversial through this work, but if you look at the big picture, if you're really interested in studying the human psyche, why would you leave out religion and spiritual practices? This has been the core of human culture since the beginning of time, people in the beginning would worship stones. It is an integral part of being a human being, probably one of the most important aspects of the human experience. Yet people feel that it's untouchable. It's a taboo to study it.
Debra Maldonado 02:05
Even speak about it. People don't share, don’t talk about what they believe.
Robert Maldonado 02:09
Jung said “I get it, I might be criticized for this. I might be ostracized from the scientific community, but it's worth it, because it's important.” Let's start with his idea of the collective unconscious, itself very controversial till today. But more and more people are understanding as we learn more about genetics and epigenetics and culture, it's a viable way of understanding how different human cultures in different times came up with very similar systems of conduct and very similar points of view of the universe, cause it connects us all. Let's look at some of the details of this.
Debra Maldonado 03:05
The collective unconscious, to define it for those who do not know or are new to Jung, he believed that the unconscious isn't just a Freudian subconscious, which is a repository of repressed memories and rejected aspects of ourselves, emotions that we suppress. He sees the unconscious as both personal, where he said there are the elements we're not conscious of that are shaped by our conditioning in life. But there's also a collective that we're born with, there's these instinctual that ties us as a human being, or even as a being on this planet, to function in the world. There's those patterns that are universal, that we inherit, we don't come as a clean slate or just shaped by our parents, everything's our parents’ fault. We're coming as an element of humanity, even beingness in this world and cosmos of larger patterns, that's the collective unconscious. It's not that it's unconscious like dormant. It’s that we're not conscious of it. Like the fish in water doesn't know it's in water. We're swimming in the collective unconscious, but we can't recognize it. Today, we're talking about the symbols that really help us understand the collective unconscious because we can't really see it directly. We see it through symbols.
Robert Maldonado 04:26
We would say the difference between spirituality and religion is that religion is more the practice, the ritual and the institutional practices that evolve at the cultural level, that often house those spiritual traditions. It's not perfect, of course, it's run by human beings, it’s created and supported by human beings. They're going to be imperfect systems, but we shouldn’t discard or discount them because of those facts. Every system on the planet that humans have evolved is imperfect. But we should try to understand them and learn as much as possible as to why have they been so important for human beings for such a long time, both spirituality and religious practices. The great Swami Vivekananda said “If you look at all religions, they have three things in common. They all have a philosophy, they have a ritualistic system or pattern, and they have a mythology that feeds and supports that religion.”
Debra Maldonado 05:42
Like the story of Jesus, or Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, or Mohammed. There's all these different stories and myths that carry us.
Robert Maldonado 05:53
Spirituality would be the individual’s experience, not just of those philosophies, mythologies, and rituals, but the individual's own subjective synthesis and interpretation of those experiences. Jung was fascinated by Catholicism because he saw it as his chance to study a living religion that contains a lot of the historical symbols that go back to pagan times, pre-Christian times.
Debra Maldonado 06:37
Lots of rituals, lots of saints, deities, myths, even the icons that come up with Christianity. They have a saint for everything you can think of. There's a saint if you lost something, or a saint if you have cancer, or a saint if you’re grieving, there's a saint for everything. Very mystical. Like the Romans, because they had different gods. It's like, how do you have one God but still play out all these characters?
Robert Maldonado 07:15
Or the pantheon of gods you see in India or other Eastern cultures, where it's closer to animism, where nature was seen as a living process, everything had a spirit in it, the trees, the rocks, water, the clouds, all had a spiritual weight to them.
Debra Maldonado 07:39
With the Catholic mass, there is profound psychological process.
Robert Maldonado 07:44
You were raised Catholic, I was not, but I can certainly see the beauty, just like Jung. The rich symbolism in the temples and in the mass. We were recently in Europe, in Vienna, in some of these incredible Catholic churches, you walk right in and there you see a big mandala right at the top of the doorway in stained glass. I don't need to be connected to the tradition to understand this is a symbol of wholeness. That's a mandala, a symbol of unity and wholeness, which represents the true self.
Debra Maldonado 08:28
Even the Trinity. In Eastern philosophy, there are waking, dreaming, and sleeping states. In the Trinity, there's the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. A lot of the same patterns show up. Let's examine some of them. I had my first communion, taking the body and blood of Christ into my mouth. When you are 11 years old, or I was younger, I was seven years old. You're like “Okay.” My mother would say “You are having the body and blood of Jesus.” That's the symbol. It was very profound to feel like you're taking spirit and putting it in your body.
Robert Maldonado 09:11
Symbolically, if we look at this ritual, it means the union of opposites. Matter and spirit, or the earthly life of the human being connected to the divine.
Debra Maldonado 09:27
The rules were that if you didn't go to confession, you weren't allowed to partake in the Eucharist because you were not pure. You have to ask for confession, then you’re pure enough to have this integration. Confession is also one of the rituals.
Robert Maldonado 09:49
Jung saw it as beginning of shadow work, where you're acknowledging your sin, your trespassing of the law, connected to your experience with your neighbor but it's reflecting something within you. It's the beginning of reintegration or redemption for the individual.
Debra Maldonado 10:13
Sin actually, in archery term, means you miss the mark. It doesn't mean it's evil or bad. You're just off base. It's basically symbolizing realigning the mind, aligning with the divine versus the human nature and seeing things in clarity. During Easter time, we had to give up something for Lent for 40 days and 40 nights. I always gave up chocolate, not something too challenging but we would always give up something that we really cared about, that would make meaning to give up for 40 days. Then on Easter, we got to eat our chocolate with Easter Bunny, which I don't know where the Easter Bunny came from as far as the Catholic religion.
Robert Maldonado 11:03
It goes back to pagan time. Rabbits, fertility, they breed like rabbits.
Debra Maldonado 11:12
They didn't tell us then, it was just a bunny that comes and brings us baskets of stuff. That whole process of sacrifice or fasting, very important, you're giving up your earthly desires for a higher desire.
Robert Maldonado 11:27
Sacrifice is both a ritual but it also goes back to the mythology that Jesus was a sacrificial lamb for humanity's sins as a token of redemption. Of course, these are also pagan traditions where the sacrifice connected what you would have to do to the gods to survive in the earthly plane.
Debra Maldonado 11:59
The sacrificial lamb. Cultures such as the Mayans would do sacrifices to have the rain coming or the wars, that was part of a symbolic way of ritual related to that.
Robert Maldonado 12:15
When the Spaniards conquered the Aztec empire, the Aztecs recognized many of the symbols in Christianity, Catholicism. They were already part of their own religious tradition. They understood sacrifice, they understood the human sacrifice, which was the main symbol of Christianity, the human being a sacrifice on the cross. They understood that, it wasn't that alien to them. They understood the cleansing properties of blood symbolically, that the blood symbolizes the sacrifice humans can make to atone for the work they have to do, the killing of animals to survive and so forth.
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Debra Maldonado 14:03
When we're talking about the symbols, these show up in dreams. Even if you're not raised Catholic or are from the Mayan culture, there's universal symbols that will show up. We often see our students say “I had a dream about blood” or “I had a dream about sacrificing, who am I going to sacrifice?” We want to look at this in more symbolic way versus taking them very literally. One of the other things I noticed too that you taught me is that the church itself is the mother. Dreaming about a church is like the mother archetype, which I found fascinating to think but it is true. It's a house, it's a place, it's matter. A place where matter meet the spirit. It's housing the spirit and the material world.
Robert Maldonado 14:48
This union of opposites, you have the spiritual father and the feminine church uniting, often in Catholicism is represented as Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. In union, it represents transcendence of both. Then a new being comes into existence in the union of these opposites. Transcendence of the ego, of course, is at the core of most spiritual traditions on Earth. You see it in the religion, of course. Paul says something like “I must decrease so that he — meaning Jesus — can increase”, meaning, the Divine, Jesus as representative of the higher self can inhabit the body. The individual ego is put in the right place, as a servant, not as the leader of the house, of the body.
Debra Maldonado 15:58
It's a really powerful way to think about your life. Instead of just fixing your ego, put it in its place and allow this other aspect of you that has been untouched by your personal experience, that is fresh and transpersonal, into your life. That's really the idea: letting Jesus in your heart, letting God in your heart, allowing the divine to step in grace, to step into your life. That usually happens when people are going through a tough time. It's like they can't get anything from the world, so they have to go inward. They have to hand themselves over, decreasing themselves to allow divine to increase.
Robert Maldonado 16:42
Jung’s contribution here, besides the idea of the collective unconscious, has deep implications for modern times. One of them is that it's a way of uniting all religious and spiritual systems. It's a way of understanding that there's an underlying psychological spiritual function at the base of all human religious experiences, which is the collective unconscious. If we ask where these symbols come from and what gives them their power, they come from the collective unconscious. It’s a reservoir of all human experience since the beginning of time that we're drawing from or that individual humans are experiencing through dreams, through visions, through inspiration, that are coming welling up from the collective unconscious and having a powerful influence in history, not only the individual’s history, but the collective history.
Debra Maldonado 17:51
If we wake up from our ego, imagine the impact we can have. There's the collective unconscious, but there's also the collective consciousness, which is the soup we all live in. The more people awaken, we could shift humanity where it's going. Would you also say the animals have access to the collective unconscious? Because you see they have similar rituals. Not all animals, but there's a spiritual element, like the mating rituals. What comes to mind is that fish that makes an elaborate design to attract the mate. Where does that come from? There must be a collective mind that it taps into that it comes from. Maybe we call it genetics and DNA adaptation, but what is the force behind that? Is that collective?
Robert Maldonado 18:51
I think Jung would say that’s the collective unconscious, animals are playing out their destiny through following these archetypal patterns that are already inherent in them. But it's also going on in human life. We've reached a point now in human evolution where we're ready to at least attempt to understand that all religions, all spiritual traditions are arising from one deeper aspect of the psyche that connects them all. We're not falsely and superficially dividing everyone and saying mine is better than yours.
Debra Maldonado 19:44
When the pandemic first started, I felt this sense of us all facing this unknown together. We were all sitting there, watching the news, everyone's locked down, there was no vaccinations, no cure, very unknown. The first time in our history, maybe there was one or two people who lived through the last one. It was unity, I felt like we were all going through the same thing, but it didn't last. Immediately, people started dividing themselves over how they saw this experience. But there's that moment where everyone's united. I saw the same thing happen here on September 11. That day, we were all as Americans so united in grief and what happened. Then very quickly, a couple of days later, people started picking their sides and their interpretation of what happened, it became very divided again. Why do we do that? We all come from the same stuff. Why do we need to divide it? Maybe it's part of the process to have the duality? What do you think? Asking you a philosophical question right now.
Robert Maldonado 20:56
Like we were talking in the beginning, the opposites create tension, but they're essential for creation, because it's what also generates the fuel of the psyche. Without opposites, you would have no drama.
Debra Maldonado 21:14
We need action. We need to be at odds with each other in a way to figure out what it's like, reflecting the things we're not conscious of. You see someone who believes the opposite of you, it’s in your unconscious that you're not able to see. It's a way for us to see all parts of ourselves.
Robert Maldonado 21:33
There’s two aspects to everything. One of them is division, the opposites can create division, but also opposites can create energy, movement, harmony. It's about understanding this principle. We're always going to feel tension between us and them. Anyone that's different, or has a different belief system, or has interpreted the same symbols that arise from the collective unconscious in their own unique way.
Debra Maldonado 22:11
Like your own unique religion. It’s my religion, it’s my symbol. My religion is better than your religion.
Robert Maldonado 22:19
Tension is always going to be there. But it's also an opportunity to generate new ideas and movement and evolving of spirituality. If we take it as that, then it becomes potential.
Debra Maldonado 22:35
Being curious about the tension versus wanting to get rid of it or judge the people causing tension, because it takes two to cause tension. It's not just the other side, it's always two sides disagreeing, but that's where magic can happen. Jung says that when two personalities come together, if there's a reaction, there's transformation — I'm paraphrasing, but that's really what it is. It's that spark that invites us in to see something more.
Robert Maldonado 23:06
The main tension now is between the scientific perspective of seeing the Big Bang as the creation and the traditional spiritual or religious perspective that sees God as the foundational principle. The tension between these two opposing points of view and creation myths is what we're dealing with. The potential is a new synthesis that will be born from these two ways of seeing the world.
Debra Maldonado 23:44
There's room for both. Religion, God, and spirituality have a place, and science has a place. It can be integrated. It would be amazing to be able to see where the overlap is, where we meet in the middle.
Robert Maldonado 24:05
That’s Jung’s contribution. He gives us a way to understand that tension psychologically, as a scientific perspective on the nature of human experience. There is collective unconscious that we're all sharing. What is the commonality amongst everyone on the planet and maybe even beings on other planets? It is this collective unconscious we all share. There's no distinction, whether we think of the origins of the universe as the Big Bang, or the origins of the universe as this divine being, or somewhere in between. That is the commonality. We're all seeing it from our own individual and cultural interpretation, but its essence, its roots lie in the collective unconscious.
Debra Maldonado 25:10
What's interesting is that the science, going into quantum physics, is now starting to see the mystical part of what we're experiencing. They said that a lot of the astronauts in the 70s, when they went up into space, they were hardcore scientists. Then they looked at the the world and the Earth and were like “How could there not be a god, a divine being that created all this?” They became religious or spiritual by having those experiences. No matter where people are, Rob, you always say to see someone as becoming, because we're all going to grow up in different religions, we're all going to grow up in different societies, we're all starting our journey in different places. Just because we started somewhere, doesn't mean we're ending up there. We could use Jung’s process of individuation to find our answers. Wherever we're at, we don't need to change religions. If you want to say Catholic, use the symbols, you'll come to the same conclusion that he did, of that oneness. It can be in your language, your symbols, your philosophy, but you'll see that all paths lead to the same truth. Krishna even said to honor people on their path, they will lead to the truth if they keep looking for it and seeking it. I think everyone on some level is seeking the truth, hopefully, some more than others. Holding the image of someone seeking the truth, no matter how lost they are, it’s a beautiful thing for us to make an impact on humanity, just holding that space for that person.
Robert Maldonado 26:51
We're not as divided as the media or the internet makes it us out to be. The vocal minorities that stoke this sense of division are just that, they're small minority compared to the majority of the people. Most people are interested in what their neighbors are interested in: having a good life, being happy, taking care of their family, doing good work. Division appears as this phenomena through the filter, these mediums that we use. Keep that in mind. But how does this become practical for us, this contribution that Jung makes to our understanding of religious and spiritual symbolism? First of all, it's giving us a way to understand our human need for transcendence. It's a universal need. No matter if you're a scientist or somebody who is a devout religious person. It's the same principle that's prompting you to seek higher knowledge, that understanding. If we understand as thus, we can see we're not that different. It's simply different ways of approaching that quest for truth and for understanding.
Debra Maldonado 28:21
Those three questions: What is the world? Who am I? What is God?
Robert Maldonado 28:28
Often, if you look at religion and spiritual traditions, they're aiming to answer the bigger question of what happens after the body dies. Where do I go? Is this the end? Those questions are also asked by science. They're not different, it’s simply a different paradigm, a different substructure of assumptions about what the nature of the universe is.
Debra Maldonado 28:56
There's some research on people who have cancer. Those who have a strong sense of purpose — how do you measure that, it's not a tangible thing, but it's the will to live, purpose to live, they tend to heal faster and more completely than those who have no mission or faith or meaning in their life. Those who don’t, tend to be more sick because there isn't that flame of life, light, reason for being. It’s so important, more than just paying your bills, finding a partner, making sure you have a nice car to drive around in, a good job. You want to have meaning in your life and a spiritual connection. Because if you don't, no matter who you are, how rational, scientific you are, you will feel like something's missing.
Robert Maldonado 29:47
Another practice we can all start to do today is drop the judgment on good and bad. Instead of depending on that ego function of what's good for me and what obstructs my path to fulfillment of my happiness, just think in terms of what connects me to every other person on this planet. We all depend on other people. Other people bring the food to the marketplace, so we can go buy it. Other people mow the lawn, other people do all kinds of work. We're all in this interdependent web of life, not only with other people, but with animals and plants, and probably the whole solar system and the whole galaxy. Start to open your mind to these possibilities as new way of seeing things, instead of just depending on your personal ego perspective.
Debra Maldonado 30:58
I have one more thing, going back to having a purpose. Within the realm of everyone contributing, there's something you have, each individual person has, that you're bringing to the world, that you were meant to bring to the world. If you're not conscious of it yet, ask that question: What is my gift? What is my role in this huge society that we have to contribute in some way? When you're a part of this, we're a human race, we start to feel that we all have a place, we all have a purpose, we all have meaning, we all have importance. That's a beautiful thing. We started like that in tribes, everyone had the role. As we got larger and larger as a human race, we lost what our role was. It's really important to find your purpose. I think it was Thoreau who said the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you realized why. All of this ties into spiritual life and knowing that there's something more to you sacrificing that, making yourself smaller, so the divine can step in and do the job. It wants to be expressed through you.
Robert Maldonado 32:07
At the individual level, Jung always emphasized these archetypal symbols, he called them numinous powerful symbols, meaning they have an internal power to transform your life and the life of the culture by extension. They’re going to come through individual dreams. It's the individual that has dreams and visions. These symbols come through our individual experiences. Pay attention to your dreams. If you remember your childhood dreams or your dreams in general, they probably already are these incredible numinous symbols that have come up through the collective unconscious in your individual dreams.
Debra Maldonado 32:58
Write down what you remember. There's something powerful about getting it out of your mind into the physical world. It's integration, again, like journaling, getting your thoughts on your mind, confession, all these things about bringing it from one state to another is integration. I've thoroughly enjoyed this, especially talking about my old Catholicism growing up. It's really powerful to look at symbols in that way. It also helps you see what so many other religious and spiritual traditions have in common, how we all are one. That's the message of today's podcast, we're one, how to find more commonality with each other and more oneness with each other than division. That's going to change the world. Thank you for joining us. Again, if you're listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, any of those wonderful podcast services, don’t forget to subscribe. Leave us comments either on YouTube or on our podcast. We'd love to hear what you have to say. I'm really excited for bringing you this great content, for you to deepen your mind of these wonderful concepts.
Robert Maldonado 34:14
See you next time.
Debra Maldonado 34:15
Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Sessions. See you next time.