Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From transference to the heirosgamos

"These are angels!" I called out "Yes," he replied, "that is you." I saw the gray curtain that separated the two angels, and the teacher explained, "That is the veil of illusion." It had lots of holes. I was deeply moved and shouted, "Oh, it's falling away, it's falling away," and I had the feeling that thousands of years that had been lived through in the half-conscious hope that it could be broken through were now fulfilled. I went to the angel who was "me" and saw a silver string reaching down from him into a very tiny creature that was also "me" in the realm of illusion. Another string reached down into a woman down there. It was Alberta. The two angels seemed identical and sexless, and they could "think together" in a kind of identicalness (that sometimes happened to me with Alberta in reality "down there'). And we thought, "Such a small part of our consciousness lives in these little creatures, and they worry about such little things. Poor little creatures!" And we saw that their union could not come about properly if the two little creatures did not fulfill their obligations to those near them rather than following their egoistic desires. And at the same time it was clear to us that it would be a sin against that "ultimate reality" (a sin against the Holy Ghost?) if we did not go on with the process of mutual striving for consciousness.

(from Psychotherapy, by Marie-Louise von Franz)

I seem to be smack dab in the middle of some serious Animus work (projections, transference, etc.), as will be obvious to anyone who's read the last few months of this blog, and this post is largely a continuation of the post about relationships I'd done a couple of months ago. In that post I explored how romantic attachments (or obsessions) are a part of the individuation process. This post is a really condensed overview of what I think that process looks like - I'll go explore the various aspects in later posts.

The hierosgamos, the sacred marriage of Goddess and God, is basically the symbol of ultimate individuation, the union of opposites. It's often associated with other images of individuation (like the Holy Grail) and I think it's the reason why we tend to be obsessed with romance in our society. We no longer fall in love with God (or Goddess); now, the literal relationship between men and women has become the sacred space where we meet the Other. And this can lead to some serious problems, as is obvious from the high divorce rates our marriages suffer from. But if our romantic relationships are a kind of vale of tears, it's also where we meet the Soul... if we're lucky. And if we work hard.

As usual I'm going to be borrowing heavily from Marie-Louise von Franz because, quite honestly, I couldn't really say it better than she has.


The anima is a kind of desire or a system of expectations that a man has in relation to a woman, an erotic-relationship fantasy. If outer expectations like ordinary sensual desire or schemes regarding money, power, and so on, get mixed up with it, everything is lost. Thus conscious recognition of the anima means loving the other for herself and for love's sake. "When I follow my love, then my love is fulfilled." Only for a man who pursues the anima for her own sake does she become Beatrice. For such a man she becomes a bridge to the transcendental realms. "Meditating, I followed the path of love," as Dante expresses it. But the anima is initially also to be found in a man's ambition, and thus she entangles him in guilt and error if he does not consciously recognize his lust for power. If a man is incapable of this, he finally ends up completely isolated in a state of possession

We could also apply this description to the animus, which is really a system of understanding.

For the animus what counts is insight or truth for truth's sake over and against any admixture of sensuality or power craving. Only a woman who loves the truth for its own sake can integrate the animus, and then he becomes, like the anima, a bridge to the Self, that is, to the knowledge of the Self. And when two people in a relationship with each other are on the path of a reciprocal individuation process, then the motif of the coniunctio of a suprapersonal couple is constallated. Jung pointed out in the citation given at the beginning that in the hierosgamos, it is not two egos that are face to face, but rather "everyone whose heart we touch." This strange multiplicity is very difficult to understand. It is as though in the "beyond" there exists only one divine couple, Shiva and Shakti, who are in eternal embrace, and the earthly human being participates in their coniunctio only as a "guest at the feast."
 (1, p. 251)

Transference is basically taking an unconscious image of an archetype and laying it over some new person. For example let's say your father was authoritarian. If you meet an older man who provides a convenient hook (by being strong willed or demanding, for example) then you react to him in a way that's out of proportion to anything he's actually done. Just the memory, possibly not even conscious, of this archetypal relationship infects your present relationship. This makes sense from a basic biological psychology perspective; all animals make emotional associations. This is an adaptive response that enables them to make instant decisions about things that might be harmful or helpful. But we humans take this even further.

There are 4 stages in the process from transference to the hierosgamos:
  1. archaic identity (or "participation mystique")
  2. mutual projections
  3. personal relationship
  4. fated togetherness in "eternity"
Archaic identity is an unconscious state in which we aren't even aware of being possessed by these images, we simply unquestioningly assume that they're real - there really is a ghost, that tree really is talking to me, gods and demons really do exist. This is why projections can be so useful; it's only when these unconscious parts of ourselves are projected onto another person that we can start to become aware of them, and then proceed with the difficult process of owning and withdrawing those projections.

In the second stage, at first we're not even aware that there's any projecting going on, we just think we're relating to the person as they are (i.e. we're "in love"). But this isn't love. It's a facsimile of love that "creates an unrealistic erotic attraction darkened by infantile demands and prejudices". (1, 238) For as long as the beloved doesn't do anything that violates our projection, everything is bliss. But sooner or later (usually sooner), we see them for the mere human beings they really are.

If, however, we can get beyond the stage of mutual projections and accept the other for the special and unique person they are, we can get to the stage of personal relationship. This is where we finally start to have a real relationship, and it's where the hard work really begins; the difficult questions of finding a moving balance between intimacy and distance, and staying present regardless of whatever emotional upheaval you're undergoing. And yet, it's also the gateway to the fourth and final stage, the hierosgamos.

The Heirosgamos

This brings us to the fourth aspect, which I have called a "fated togetherness in eternity," the real mysterium coniunctionis. This stage has to do with the experience of the Self, the inner wholeness that cannot be understood intellectually, but only through love. Jung writes: "This love is not transference and it is not ordinary friendship or sympathy. It is more primitive, more primeval and more spiritual than anything we can describe." In this realm, it is no longer two individuals relating with each other on the personal level, but the "many, including yourself and anybody whose heart you touch." There, "there is no distance, but immediate presence. It is an eternal secret..." In a certain sense, in the manifestation of this fourth aspect a return to the first aspect takes place, but on a higher, more conscious level. For that reason an inkling of this highest stage is already present in the first and brings about the depth of passion with which many try to cling to the stage of participation mystique and to fight off a conscious coming to terms with, and recognition of, the limited human reality.
 (1, p. 245)

This is the final stage (about which I'm just using my imagination, hence the even more liberal use of other people's quotes.)  Most relationships don't even get beyond the second stage because most people don't even realize they're projecting, let along do the hard work of owning and withdrawing their projections. But if they can get to the third stage, of personal relationship, and endure the uncertainty and maintain their presence with the other, they can occasionally touch upon the eternal relationship.

As in the third stage, the hierosgamos requires a moving balance, as it is "both more primitive and more spiritual than anything we are capable of describing. The king and queen [the spiritual couple], as well as the the animals [the instinctive couple], represent something completely transpersonal, like something that exists in the divine realm, beyond space and time. That is why the dream tells us that the royal couple are 'strangers to the world.' The human ego has to help them move in this concrete sphere. The dream beautifully depicts the intermediate position of the ego, which on the one hand imposes a certain spiritual discipline on the animals and on the other has to provide the royal couple with an element of earthly reality." (1, p. 247)

With the awareness and strength to withdraw projections, and with the continual struggle to find the difficult and moving balance between sexuality and spirituality, we may finally attain the hierosgamos. This is the reason why love (and desire) exercises such fascination for us; because it is through our relationships that we come face to face with the Divine.

When this event is highlighted in the background of a human encounter, when the god and goddess are present, then a feeling of eternity arises, as though the moment of the earthly encounter were now and always at the same time, as Jung expressed it, an "immediate presence." Thus Jung wrote in his memoirs that "emotional ties... still contain projections, and it is essential to withdraw these projections in order to attain oneself and to objectivity... objective cognition lies hidden behind the attraction of the emotional relationship; it seems to be the central secret. Only through objective cognition is the real coniunctio possible."
(1, p. 253)

Books referenced
  1. von Fran, Marie-Louise, Psychotherapy.

The urge to become whole is the strongest drive in a human being, and that is what is really hidden behind the deeper passion in the transference. At the end of his life, Jung admitted: "I falter before the task of finding language which might adequately express the incalculable paradoxes of love. Eros is a kosmogonos, a creator and father-mother of all... consciousness.... Here is the greatest and smallest, the remotest and nearest, the highest and lowest, and we cannot discuss one side of it without discussing the other... If he [man] possesses a grain of wisdom, he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown, ignotum per ignotius - that is, by the name of God."

And once in a conversation, he said, "The problem of love is so difficult that a person has to be happy if at the end of his life he can say that no one has been destroyed on his account."

(from Psychotherapy, by Marie-Louise von Franz)

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