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Forward to Lucifer and Prometheus

Psychology and Religion: West and East (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 11)

Prometheus having his liver eaten by an eagle. Painting by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1640, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany.

Forward to Werblowsky’s: Lucifer and Prometheus

468 The author has submitted his manuscript to me with the request that I should write a few words by way of introduction. As the subject of the book is essentially literary, I do not feel altogether competent to express an opinion on the matter. The author has, however, rightly discerned that, although the problem of Milton’s Paradise Lost is primarily a subject for literary criticism, it is, as a piece of confessional writing, fundamentally bound up with certain psychological assumptions. Though he has only touched on these at least in so many words he has made it sufficiently plain why he has appealed to me as a psychologist. However little disposed I am to regard Dante’s Divine Comedy or Klopstock’s Messiah or Milton’s opus as fit subjects for psychological commentary, I cannot but acknowledge the acumen of the author, who has seen that the problem of Milton might well be elucidated from that angle of research which is my special field of study.

469 For over two thousand years the figure of Satan, both as a theme of poetico-religious thinking and artistic creation and as a mythologem, has been a constant expression of the psyche, having its source in the unconscious evolution of “metaphysical” images. We should go very wrong in our judgment if we assumed that ideas such as this derive from rationalistic thinking. All the old ideas of God, indeed thought itself, and particularly numinous thought, have their origin in experience. Primitive
man does not think his thoughts, they simply appear in his mind. Purposive and directed thinking is a relatively late human achievement. The numinous image is far more an expression of essentially unconscious processes than a product of rational inference. Consequently it falls into the category of psychological objects, and this raises the question of the underlying
psychological assumptions. We have to imagine a millennial process of symbol-formation which presses towards consciousness, beginning in the darkness of prehistory with primordial or archetypal images, and gradually developing and differentiating these images into conscious creations. The history of religion in the West can be taken as an illustration of this: I mean the historical development of dogma, which also includes the figure of Satan. One of the best-known archetypes, lost in the grey mists of antiquity, is the triad of gods. In the early centuries of Christianity it reappears in the Christian formula for the Trinity, whose pagan version is Hermes terunits. Nor is it difficult to see that the great goddess of the Ephesians has been resurrected in the QZOTOKOS. This latter problem, after lying dormant for centuries, came into circulation again with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and, more recently, of the Assumption of the Virgin. The figure of the mediatrix rounds itself out in almost classical perfection, and it is especially noteworthy that behind the solemn promulgation of the dogma there stands no arbitrary tenet of papal authority but an anonymous movement of the Catholic world. The numerous miracles of the Virgin which preceded it are equally autochthonous; they are genuine and legitimate experiences springing directly from the unconscious psychic life of the people.

470 I do not wish to multiply examples needlessly, but only to make it clear that the figure of Satan, too, has undergone a curious development, from the time of his first undistinguished appearance in the Old Testament texts to his heyday in Christianity. He achieved notoriety as the personification of the adversary or principle of evil, though by no means for the first time, as we meet him centuries earlier in the ancient Egyptian Set and the Persian Ahriman. Persian influences have been conjectured as mainly responsible for the Christian devil But the real reason for the differentiation of this figure lies in the conception of God as the summum bonum, which stands in sharp contrast to the Old Testament view and which, for reasons of psychic balance, inevitably requires the existence of an infimum malum. No logical reasons are needed for this, only the natural and unconscious striving for balance and symmetry. Hence very early, in Clement of Rome, we meet with the conception of Christ as the right hand and the devil as the left hand of God, not to speak of the Judaeo-Christian view which recognized two
sons of God, Satan the elder and Christ the younger. The figure of the devil then rose to such exalted metaphysical heights that he had to be forcibly depotentiated, under the threatening influence of Manichaeism. The depotentiation was effected this time by rationalistic reflection, by a regular tour de force of sophistry which defined evil as a privatio boni. But that did
nothing to stop the belief from arising in many parts of Europe during the eleventh century, mainly under the influence of the Catharists, that it was not God but the devil who had created the world. In this way the archetype of the imperfect demiurge, who had enjoyed official recognition in Gnosticism, reappeared in altered guise. (The corresponding archetype is probably to be found in the cosmogonic jester 2 of primitive peoples.) With the extermination of the heretics that dragged on into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, an uneasy calm ensued, but the Reformation thrust the figure of Satan once more into the foreground. I would only mention Jakob Bohme, who sketched a picture of evil which leaves the privatio boni pale by comparison. The same can be said of Milton. He inhabits the same mental climate. As for Bohme, although he was not a direct descendant of alchemical philosophy, whose importance is still grossly underrated today, he certainly took over a number of its leading ideas, among them the specific recognition of Satan, who was exalted to a cosmic figure of first rank in Milton, even emancipating himself from his subordinate role as the left hand of God (the role assigned to him by Clement). Milton goes even further than Bohrne and apostrophizes the devil as the true principium individuationis, a concept which had been anticipated by the alchemists some time before. To mention only one example: “Ascendit a terra in coelum, iterumque descendit in terram et recipit vim superiorum et inferiorum. Sic habebis gloriam totius mundi.” (He rises from earth to heaven and descends again to earth, and receives into himself the power of above and below. Thus thou wilt have the glory of the whole world.) The quotation comes from the famous alchemical classic, the Tabula Smaragdina, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, whose authority remained unchallenged for more than thirteen centuries of alchemical thought. His words refer not to Satan, but to the filius philosophorum, whose symbolism, as I believe I have shown, coincides with that of the psychological “self.” The filius of the alchemists is one of the numerous manifestations of Mercurius, who is called “duplex” and “ambiguus” and is also known outside alchemy as “utriusque capax” capable of anything. His “dark” half has an obvious affinity with Lucifer.

300px Paradise Lost 12

Satan, who in Milton’s Paradise Lost is also called Lucifer,[1] on his way to bring about the downfall of Adam. Gustave Doré’s illustration for Paradise Lost, Book III, lines 739–742 by John Milton.

47 1 In Milton’s time these ideas were very much in the air, forming part of the general stock of culture, and there were not a few Masters who realized that their philosophical stone was none other than the “total man.” The Satan-Prometheus parallel shows clearly enough that Milton’s devil stands for the essence of human individuation and thus comes within the scope of
psychology. This close proximity, as we know, proved a danger not only to the metaphysical status of Satan, but to that of other numinous figures as well. With the coming of the Enlightenment, metaphysics as a whole began to decline, and the rift which then opened out between knowledge and faith could no longer be repaired. The more resplendent figures in the metaphysical pantheon had their autonomy restored to them practically untarnished, which assuredly cannot be said of the devil. In Goethe’s Faust he has dwindled to a very personal familiaris, the mere “shadow” of the struggling hero. After rational-liberal Protestantism had, as it were, deposed him by order of the day, he retired to the shadier side of the Christian Olympus as the “odd man out,” and thus, in a manner not unwelcome to the Church, the old principle reasserted itself: Omne bonum a Deo, omne malum ab homine. The devil remains as an appendix to psychology.

472 It is a psychological rule that when an archetype has lost its metaphysical hypostasis, it becomes identified with the conscious mind of the individual, which it influences and refashions in its own form. And since an archetype always possesses a certain numinosity, the integration of the numen generally produces an inflation of the subject. It is therefore entirely in accord with psychological expectations that Goethe should dub his Faust a Superman. In recent times this type has extended beyond Nietzsche into the field of political psychology, and its incarnation in man has had all the consequences that might have been expected to follow from such a misappropriation of power.

473 As human beings do not live in airtight compartments, this infectious inflation has spread everywhere and given rise to an extraordinary uncertainty in morals and philosophy. The medical psychologist is bound to take an interest in such matters, if only for professional reasons, and so we witness the memorable spectacle of a psychiatrist introducing a critical study of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Meditating upon this highly incongruous conjunction, I decided that I should best fulfill my obligations if I explained to the well-intentioned reader how and why the devil got into the consulting-room of the psychiatrist. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion.