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Psychology and Religion

A relief image, part of the Babylonian Ishtar gate.

[Pre-Christian parallels to the Trinity in Babylonia…~Carl Jung]

In proposing to approach this central symbol of Christianity, the Trinity, from the psychological point of view, I realize that I am trespassing on territory that must seem very far removed from psychology.

But everything to do with religion, everything it says, impinges so closely on the human soul that psychology cannot, in my opinion, afford to overlook it.

A conception like the Trinity pertains so much to the realm of theology that the only one of the profane sciences to pay any attention to it nowadays is history.

Indeed, most people have ceased even to think about dogma, especially about a concept as hard to visualize as the Trinity.

Even among professing Christians there are very few who think seriously about the Trinity as a matter of dogma and would consider it a possible subject for reflection not to mention the educated public.

A recent exception is Georg Koepgen’s very important book, Die Gnosis des Christenturns, which, unfortunately, soon found its way onto the Index despite the episcopal “Placet.”

For all those who are seriously concerned to understand dogmatic ideas, this book of Koepgen’s is a perfect example of thinking which has fallen under the spell of Trinitarian symbolism.

Triads of gods appear very early, at a primitive level. The archaic triads in the religions of antiquity and of the East are too numerous to be mentioned here.

Arrangement in triads is an archetype in the history of religion, which in all probability formed the basis of the Christian Trinity.

Often these triads do not consist of three different deities independent of one another; instead, there is a distinct tendency for certain family relationships to arise within the triads.

I would mention as an example the Babylonian triads, of which the most important is Anu, Bel, and Ea. Ea, personifying knowledge, is the father of Bel (“Lord”), who personifies practical activity.

A secondary, rather later triad is the one made up of Sin (moon), Shainash (sun), and Adad (storm). Here Adad is the son of the supreme god, Anu. Under Nebuchadnezzar, Adad was the “Lord of heaven and earth.”

This suggestion of a father-son relationship comes out more clearly at the time of Hammurabi: Marduk, the son of Ea, was entrusted with Bel’s power and thrust him into the background. Ea was a “loving, proud father, who willingly transferred his power and rights to his son.”

Marduk was originally a sun-god, with the cognomen “Lord” (Bel); he was the mediator between his father Ea and mankind. Ea declared that he knew nothing that his son did not know. Marduk, as his fight with Tiamat shows, is a redeemer.

He is “the compassionate one, who loves to awaken the dead”; the “Great eared,” who hears the pleadings of men. He is a helper and healer, a true savior.

This teaching about a redeemer flourished on Babylonian soil all through the Christian era and goes on living today in the religion of the Mandaeans (who still exist in Mesopotamia), especially in their redeemer figure Manda d’Hayya or Hibil Ziwa.

Among the Mandaeans he appears also as a light-bringer and at the same time as a world-creator. Just as, in the Babylonian epic, Marduk fashions the universe out of Tiamat, so Mani, the Original Man, makes heaven and earth from the skin, bones, and excrement of the children of darkness.

“The all-round influence which the myth of Marduk had on the religious ideas of the Israelites is surprising and this at a time when the worship of Marduk was nearing its height.

Hammurabi felt himself the god of a new aeon [the aeon of Aries], which was then beginning and the suspicion is probably justified that tacit recognition was given to the triad Anu-Bel-Hammurabi.

The fact that there is a secondary triad, Sin-Shamash-Ishtar, is indicative of another intra-triadic relationship. Ishtar appears here in the place of Adad, the storm god.

She is the mother of the gods, and at the same time the daughter of Anu as well as of Sin.

Invocation of the ancient triads soon takes on a purely formal character. The triads prove to be ”more a theological tenet than a living force.”

They represent, in fact, the earliest beginnings of theology. Anu is the Lord of heaven, Bel is the Lord of the lower realm, earth, and Ea too is the god of an “underworld,” but in his case it is the watery deep.

The knowledge that Ea personifies comes from the “depths of the waters.” According to* one Babylonian legend, Ea created Uddushunamir, a creature of light, who was the messenger of the gods on Ishtar’s journey to hell.

The name means: “His light (orrising) shines.” Jeremias connects him with Gilgamesh, the hero who was more than half a god.

The messenger of the gods was usually called Girru (Sumerian “Gibil”), the god of fire.

As such he has an ethical aspect, for with his purifying fire he destroys evil.

He too is a son of Ea, but on the other hand he is also escribed as a son of Anu. In this connection it is worth mentioning that Marduk as well has a dual nature, since in one hymn he is called Mar Mummi, ‘son of chaos/ In the same hymn his consort Sarpanitu is invoked along with Ea’s wife, the mother of Marduk, as the “Silver-shining One.”

This is probably a reference to Venus, the femina alba.

In alchemy the albedo changes into the moon, which, in Babylonia, was still masculine. Four may signify totality, just as it does in the case of the four sons of Horus, the four seraphim in the vision of Ezekiel, and the four symbols of the evangelists, consisting of three animals and one angel.

The ideas which are present only as intimations in Babylonian tradition are developed to full clarity in Egypt.

I shall pass lightly over this subject here, as I have dealt with the Egyptian prefigurations of the Trinity at greater length elsewhere, in an as yet unfinished study of the symbolical bases of alchemy shall only emphasize that Egyptian theology asserts, first and foremost, the essential unity (homoousia) of God as father and son, both represented by the king.

The third person appears in the form of Ka-mutef (“the bull of his mother”), who is none other than the ka, the procreative power of the deity. In it and through it father and son are combined not in a triad but in a triunity.

To the extent that Ka-mutef is a special manifestation of the divine ka> we can “actually speak of a triunity of God, king, and kay in the sense that God is the father, the king is the son, and ka the connecting-link between them.”

In his concluding chapter Jacobsohn draws a parallel between this Egyptian idea and the Christian credo.

Apropos the passage “qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria virgine,” he cites Karl Earth’s formulation: “There is indeed a unity of God and man; God himself creates it. … It is no other unity than his own eternal unity as father and son.

This unity is the Holy Ghost.” As procreator the Holy Ghost would correspond to Ka-mutef, who connotes and guarantees the unity of father and son.

In this connection Jacobsohn cites Earth’s comment on Luke i : 35 (“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”):

“When the Bible speaks of the Holy Ghost, it is speaking of God as the combination of father and son, of the vinculum caritatis.”

The divine procreation of Pharaoh takes place through Ka-mutef, in the human mother of the king. But, like Mary, she remains outside the Trinity.

As Preisigke points out, the early Christian Egyptians simply transferred their traditional ideas about the ka to the Holy Ghost.

This explains the curious fact that in the Coptic version of Pistis Sophia, dating from the third century, Jesus has the Holy Ghost as his double, just like a proper ka.

The Egyptian mythologem of the unity of substance of father and son, and of procreation in the king’s mother, lasted until the Vth dynasty (about 2500 B.C.).

Speaking of the birth of the divine boy in whom Horus manifests himself, God the Father says: “He will exercise a kingship of grace in this land, for my soul is in him,” and to the child he says: “You are the son of my body, begotten by me.” “The sun he bears within him from his father’s seed rises anew in him.”

His eyes are the sun and moon, the eyes of Horus. We know that the passage in Luke 1:78!: “Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” refers to Malachi 4:2: “But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.”

Who does not think here of the winged sun-disc of Egypt? These ideas passed over into Hellenistic syncretism and were transmitted to Christianity through Philo and Plutarch.

So it is not true, as is sometimes asserted even by modern theologians, that Egypt had little if any influence on the formation of Christian ideas. Quite the contrary.

It is, indeed, highly improbable that only Babylonian ideas should have penetrated into Palestine, considering that this small buffer state had long been under Egyptian hegemony and had, moreover, the closest cultural ties with its powerful neighbor, especially after a flourishing Jewish colony established itself in Alexandria, several centuries before the birth of Christ.

It is difficult to understand what could have induced Protestant theologians, whenever possible, to make it appear that the world of Christian ideas dropped straight out of heaven.

The Catholic Church is liberal enough to look upon the Osiris-Horus-Isis myth, or at any rate suitable portions of it, as a prefiguration of the Christian legend of salvation.

The numinous power of a mythologem and its value as truth are considerably enhanced if its archetypal character can be proved.

The archetype is “that which is believed always, everywhere, and by everybody,” and if it is not recognized consciously, then it appears from behind in its “wrathful” form, as the dark “son of chaos,” the evil-doer, as Antichrist instead of Savior a fact which is all too clearly demonstrated by contemporary history. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Religion; Pages 112-126.

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