THE SYMBOLIC LIFE
In the Hebrew story of the Exodus the catalyst for the call of Moses to rescue his people from the tyranny of Pharaoh begins with the killing of Hebrew children. Moses is a survivor of that holocaust. Similarly, according to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also survives the intent of King Herod to kill all new born infants. We are coming closer to this painfully mythic terror becoming more of a reality in the killing of our school children, most recently in Uvalde, Texas, where nineteen 10 year old children and two of their teachers were shot to death by an eighteen year old assassin armed with an assault rifle. This is unfortunately not new. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Florida, are a few of the previous assaults on our children that have happened in recent years.
Unlike in the myths, however, nothing has emerged in our time to stem the tide of our assault on innocent children. When figures do standup they are literally (Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy) or psychologically shot down (the parents of the children killed in Sandy Hook are told it didn’t really happen and they are making it up).
In his book, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved son: Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (1993), Jon Levenson shows that a major part of the ethical evolution of these two religions was that the practice of child sacrifice was stemmed. This was due in part to placing the energy into more creative directions. Knowing how to make personal sacrifices is one key element of this.
In the splendid record of his inner journey, The Red Book (2007), C. G. Jung warns that “They should sacrifice the hero in themselves, and because they do not know this, they kill their courageous brother.” (p. 239) At the time Jung was referring to all the youth sent off to their deaths in World War I, and he continued to write about this collective danger of our time.
In Psychological Types (1921), his first major work after the soul searching journey that led to The Red Book, Jung often refers to the barbarism that lies under the façade of modern civilization. He sums up this reflections at the end of his life in his autobiography.
“What we from our point of view call colonization, missions to the heathen, spread of civilization, etc., has another face—the face of a bird of prey seeking with cruel intentness for distant quarry—a face worthy of a race of pirates and highwaymen. All the eagles and other predatory creatures that adorn our coats of arms seem to me apt psychological representatives of our true nature.” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 248-249)
Jung addresses this theme in his other writings as well, for instance, in his article on the “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” Jung writes,
“Progress and development are ideals not lightly to be rejected, but they lose all meaning if man only arrives at this new state as a fragment of himself, having left his essential hinterland behind him in the shadow of the unconscious, in a state of primitivity, or indeed, barbarism. The conscious mind, split off from its origins, incapable of realizing the meaning of the new state, then relapses all too easily into a situation far worse than the one from which the innovation was intended to free it.” (The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, par 293)
What Jung is observing is that through the centuries we have come to educate the mind, but not the heart.
This theme remarkably appears in the modern mythology of Star Wars, in particular in Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005) where we see Anakin Skywalker walk into the Jedi Temple and slay the “younglings” who live and learn there. Young budding life is mercilessly cut down. Some of the repercussions of this act are powerfully depicted in the recently released Disney “Obi-Wan Kenobi” streaming series (2022). How does an individual respond to such blatant violence, especially if you have almost been a victim of it? Does one just run and hide?
What we witness in this so called civilized progression is the tragedy of losing one’s humanity, the capacity to feel for our fellow human beings. A survival mode sets in that aborts the sense of community, the embrace of the incredible complexity of each individual’s personality, that is desperately needed in our times. We can go numb or we can awaken to what is the best of each of us despite the trauma that seems to erupt around us on almost a daily basis. Editor: Steve Galipeau