Archive for June, 2013


“What we seek in visible human form is not man, but the superman, the hero or god, that quasi-human being who symbolizes the ideas, forms, and forces which grip and mould the soul.”

C.G. Jung (CW 5, par. 259)

 “The archetype of the redeemer-god … is age-old – we simply do not know how old.”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 202)

Summer is upon us and once again the superhero has returned to movie theaters. Let me begin by stating that I enjoy watching the occasional superhero film for it can simultaneously entertain and enlighten us. In my youth, I was an avid reader and collector of comic books with a special fondness for The Fantastic Four (was this the beginning of my becoming a Jungian?).

From a psychological perspective, even the most cursory consideration of these films reveals the age-old archetype of the hero, including motifs of the wound, redemption and the granting of a gift providing power for the good of humanity. The superhero story also always possesses an opponent of near equal strength (but of course not equal or greater strength than our hero) to add tension to the narrative. For how interesting would the story be without the possibility of the hero’s demise?

It has been noted that the comic book hero Superman first appeared around the time of the Great Depression. His original form, as a very strong man fighting for the underdog, helped people during this time to cope with their feelings of disempowerment. Psychologically, people projected their inner hero onto this comic book hero thus imaginatively allowing them to experience exploits of empowered justice. Also, the portrayal of a simple division between good and evil helped people deal with the ambiguity and complexity of their lived-world. As Jung notes, the archetype of the redeemer-hero has been with us for a long time. Each age, each culture creates its own nuanced form of the archetypal hero story.

What I find most interesting is the current superabundance of these films (see a recent article on the implications of this for film in general). To be sure, Superman has been with us for many years on both television and film screens. But recently it seems the door to the hallowed hall of the superheroes has been thrust open allowing a veritable stampede of heroes to enter our everyday world. Consider the appearances of Superman, Batman, the Hulk, Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, X-Men and the Avengers, to name but a few! Truly the world is in safe hands with such an abundance of hero-redeemers. Consider also that these superheroes return each blockbuster summer season, nicely synchronized with the appearance of the summer solstice… perhaps, this is no coincidence given that the original hero myths were tied to the Sun’s (Son’s!) rebirth each year.

Apparently, we are in dire need of the redeemer-hero given the large number of people attending these films. The hero eternally returns – most recently in form fitting tights and modern metallic armor (remember the archetype is universal, but its particular form adapts to the times). Today we find our superheroes as projected images on film screens, which is certainly deeply ironic for depth psychologists. A positive aspect to these projections is that they allow us to gaze into the unconscious. Analytic gazing opens us to a path back into ourselves. Perhaps, by questioning why we are so fascinated with our many superheroes we may ultimately find the hero within ourselves.

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“Everything now depends on man: immense power of destruction is given into his hands, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it, and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom. He will hardly be capable of doing so on his own unaided resources. He needs the help of an “advocate” in heaven …”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 745)

“The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have placed into his hands. But he can make no progress with himself unless he becomes very much better acquainted with his own nature.”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 746)

Within the last few weeks the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 400ppm. What does this mean? First, ppm is a unit of measure used in atmospheric science to denote the fractional amount of a gas relative to the total amount of all gases in the atmosphere. The more important point is that prior to the Industrial Revolution this number was around 280ppm. So, through the burning of fossil fuels we have increased this potent greenhouse gas by 43%, which is causing the planet to warm up. Second, when was the last time carbon dioxide was at a level of 400ppm? It turns out that it was around 4 million years ago, when the planet was much warmer than today with accompanying higher sea levels. Back at this time very slow natural geologic processes led to higher carbon dioxide levels. Which brings us to the important point that the current rate of increase in carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels is unprecedented. In a matter of two hundred years humans have put Earth back to a point it has not been at for many millions of years. This is important because life on Earth is sensitive to the rate of change of climate.

We are in the midst of performing a very dangerous experiment on Earth. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, as we have in the recent past, then in a mere 80 years carbon dioxide will reach levels of 800 to 1000 ppm. These levels of carbon dioxide were last present around 40 million years ago when Earth was very, very warm. In Jung’s words we humans have an “immense power of destruction” in our hands. Often people will say if the planet was warm in the past and life existed, then what is the problem? Certainly Earth and many life forms on it will survive an increasingly warm world. But humans and many other species have never lived in such a world. Do we want to risk seeing what would happen to civilization by continuing this experiment? Arguments are also made that it will cost too much to do something about the problem, but what of the terrible costs if we do nothing? If a doctor finds you have a serious illness that can be successfully treated, do you do nothing?

Now to Jung’s comments … It has become clear to me that any solution to this problem must be rooted in a transformation of consciousness. We have fallen into this problem because of our ill-tempered will to control. This pure will-directed approach to living is no longer tenable on a planet with over 7 billion people. In the first quote, Jung notes that we need to temper “will with the spirit of love and wisdom.” Many may look upon this statement as unrealistic and perhaps even delusional. However, there is ample evidence that we are capable of finding and expressing love and wisdom to each other and in the way we live life. We are a species innately imbued with the potential to care. Our capability for compassion is boundless. We often forget this fact of life and believe that we are basically greedy beings. If this were so, then cooperation, an act essential for our survival, would not exist. Yet, we do care, love and find wisdom within ourselves. Jung notes that we need a heavenly “advocate” to accomplish this because it is beyond the ability of our ego alone. What does he mean by this? In today’s world, this means that we need to recognize and become acquainted with our “own nature,” in other words, the innate deep part of our psyches that holds the archetypal power of wisdom. In Buddhism this would be called Big Mind as compared to the small mind of the relative ego. Jung would call it the Self. Perhaps a neuroscientist would call it the power of empathy. Whatever one chooses to call this force within, empirically we know it exists.

The most important challenge now is whether we, “can climb… to a higher plane of consciousness…” in order to avoid falling prey to our own “superhuman powers.” The movement to this higher plane rests on our ability to wake up to the reality of our inner “love and wisdom” which  are necessary to create a sustainable future for all.

I would encourage each of you reading this to take one moment today and express your innate sense of love and wisdom towards another. This would be a very good start to creating a transformation of consciousness.

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