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The Archetype of the Apocalypse

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Summer 2016)


Beginning in January of 1995 Jungian Analyst Edward Edinger began a lecture series on the Archetype of the Apocalypse at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. Much of the material he reviewed in these lectures came from the images found in the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. Edinger made parallels between the visions of that Apocalyptic Age and our own elucidating much of Jung's later work. Shortly after he completed these lectures in April of that year the Oklahoma City bombings took place.

Edinger was remarkably prescient in this material as it speaks to our domestic and international terrorism situation in profound ways. His work was published in 1999, and there he writes, "I think it is evident to perceptive people that the Apocalypse archetype is now highly activated in the collective psyche and is living itself out in human history. The archetypal dynamic has already started, is already moving among us." (p. 171) This is so true today that one can now hardly keep up with it all. A June 26th article in the Los Angeles Times documented an act of terror somewhere in the world every day in the month of April. We hear of police shootings, and the shooting of police. In Orlando Florida last month we had "the deadliest mass shooting in U. S. history." As I sat to work on this article the bold headlines in the paper declared: "'Horror' Again Strikes France!"

Such ongoing occurrences moved me early this year to revisit Edinger's work and his examination of the psychic reality that undergirds these events. He reminds us that Jung's work calls our attention to how split the western psyche became over the centuries, a split that has escalated since Jung wrote. Edinger writes, "The coming 'psychological aeon' is aiming towards the union of what has been split." (p. 122) "The "Apocalypse" signifies that the archetypal "opposites" which make up the God-image have been activated and have set off the dynamism of the coniunctio or the archetypal problem of "love and war." The opposites, of any sort, either unite in love or clash in enmity. When this transpersonal dynamism touches the conscious ego, it engages the human psyche, both individually and collectively." (p. 168)

Edinger goes on to say, "To do this however, the archetypal dynamic must draft or conscript human beings into its service, Yet this means that human beings will be 'consumed' or 'devoured' by the process which then deprives them of their personal lives. Archetypal factors make them mere 'actors' in the archetypal drama." (p. 169) "One way or another, the world is going to be made a single whole entity. But it will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness. If a sufficient number of individuals can have the experience of the coming of the Self [the archetype of wholeness] as an individual, inner experience, we may just possibly be spared the worst features of its external manifestation." (p. 174)

While the national and world conflicts can seem overwhelming to each of us, we can be guided by myth and symbol. A good example captured the imaginations of filmgoers at the end of last year and into this one. But before I go into a few of its characters, I'd like to refer to the image Edinger felt was the most important one in the Book of Revelation. This is the image of the sun-moon woman. (pp. 98-99) She gives birth to a son who is taken up to God's throne, while she escaped into the desert where God had prepared a place for her. Curiously, the latest Star Wars film, "The Force Awakens," begins in a desert where we discover a woman living as a scavenger, in particular she scavenges the wrecks of starships and vehicles from earlier galactic conflicts. She awaits the return of those who left her there, but the course of events "awakens" her to go forward in a new way.

As I wrote in The Journey of Luke Skywalker, my book on the original Star Wars trilogy, the underlying theme in these films was the rescuing and further awakening of the feminine principle, what Jung referred to as the anima, the archetype of life. The most recent film takes this theme further in the central character of Rey, the woman alone in the desert. She lives in an apocalyptic world much as Edinger describes. And as with the original trilogy we once more await to see which of these polarities will prevail; if someone, in the language of these films, will be able to bring balance to the Force. The new First Order, who of course would always put themselves first, seeks to rule by means of mass destructiveness. Kylo Ren, who comes from a good family, is gripped by the archetype that once gripped his grandfather Darth Vader. He is seeking to disregard his humanity. A small group of individuals would find another way, one that respects individuals and their differences. In addition to Rey, a key counterpoint to Kylo Ren is the character Finn. Conscripted at birth by the First Order to be a storm trooper, his humanity will not allow him to be a part of such violence. He helps a resistance pilot escape the First Order, and eventually becomes as devoted to Rey as Luke Skywalker was to the efforts of Princess Leia Organa in the very first movie.

An apocalyptic age keeps challenging us to choose life, humanity, and human relationship over impersonal power and its wanton destructiveness. Understanding our past and present mythology can help us find our way.

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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