How's Your Religion Working For You?


As our species grew more aware of itself and its vulnerability in a dangerous world, we noticed we had some uncontrollable emotions, instincts, and behaviors that didn’t jibe with our conscious intentions. Suspecting that some remote, all-powerful forces must have created us and were still influencing us, we told stories about them and devised rituals to gain their favor so they’d protect us and help us thrive.
Our God-images originate in the psyche’s archetypal patterns.  For example, we’re all born with Mother/Queen and Father/King archetypes and every culture has attributed the qualities children associate with their parents to a Great Mother Creatrix and Great Father Creator. While their myths differed from culture to culture, the same characteristics of ultimate power, knowledge and authority always appeared. Likewise, every culture tells stories about Kings and Queens, Warriors and Monsters, Magicians and Wisewomen, Lovers and Beloveds. These show us how we see ourselves, each other, and the mysterious forces of life over which we have no control.
As our forebears acquired more self-awareness their ideas about their deities changed. Religions are still growing and changing. This is to be expected and welcomed, not resisted. A changing God-image does not negate God’s existence. Most of us see our parents very differently from the way we did as children, but this doesn’t mean we invented them, or that we have to keep believing the same things about them we used to, or that we’ve stopped loving them. It just means our perspective has changed with more experience and maturity.
Moreover, since no two individuals are exactly the same, it makes no sense at all to expect everyone to have the same beliefs about God. What is the same, what is archetypal, is that, as Carl Jung realized, we all have a religious instinct, a compulsion to understand ourselves and transcend our destructive unconscious influences so we can be immersed in the great Mystery of Life. Calling the Mystery by different names or denying its existence doesn’t change it. It simply is what it is. As the ancient saying goes, “Called or not called, the God will be present.”
Jung named our religious instinct the Self, or God-image. This central archetype gives rise to all others. Most interesting to me are those which represent our feminine and masculine sides and inspire our ideas about gender. My goal is to differentiate between the gender-associations that are cultural stereotypes versus those which are universally accepted, and therefore archetypes.
Nobody knows the exact nature of the archetypes, but there are many theories based on the clusters of instinctual emotions and behaviors they represent. My system pairs four basic masculine archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician/Scholar, and Lover) with four feminine ones (Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved). Every psyche contains all eight and we each express them differently depending on our genetic and cultural inheritance, experiences, and psychological integration. We cannot control them any more than we can control the deities onto which we project them. But we can befriend them, forgive ourselves for being human, and treat others with compassion with the realization that they are struggling as much as we are.
It’s not correct belief, but compassion that makes a genuine spirit person. So how is your religion working for you? Is your caring real or is it a mask you wear in public and take off in private? If you really want to know, take an honest look at your closest relationships. No cheating. Your shadow knows!

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0 Responses

  1. This really made me think. I never agreed with organized religion, it felt too forced. Instead, I’ve reached for what I see in nature. What is real, what is true. And, perhaps some of it is archetypical, too. What confused me in your writing was this statement: “we express them differently depending on our genetic and cultural inheritance…” How would we know what is inherited and what is experience? Do we inherit religious tendencies, or do we learn them from our parents who come from a certain culture? Interesting.

    1. Dear Free7one,
      This is a wonderful question. Jung believed we’re all born with the religious instinct: a profound need to immerse ourselves in the Great Mystery. He called it the core archetype of the Self, our God-image. As we grow up we feel this inner reality and our ideas about it are shaped by our culture. But my culture does not know the entirety of the Mystery any more than any other culture does. So mine might imagine my god-image as God, someone else as Allah, someone else as Jehovah, and my ideas about this Mystery will be shaped by my culture’s religious stories, symbols and rituals.
      Personal transformation begins when individuals question cultural god-images and begin the inward journey to self-discovery, which, over time, teaches them the difference between cultural interpretations and the realities of our authentic Self. Establishing a relationship with that authentic Self is the true spiritual journey that every human being, regardless of their religion, is called to take.
      I hope this helps.

  2. This is so perfect, so succinct an explanation of archetypes.
    I am doing a post on Father Christmas next week; do you mind if I link to this article?

    1. Hi Viv,
      No, indeed. I would be honored! I’m enjoying your blog very much and look forward to reading your take on Father Christmas!
      Thanks so much for stopping by,

  3. Great post! Something I’ve been struggling with since starting to read Jung over the past 5 years: are archetypes determinate of behavior, or are they metaphors/stories/symbols that we relate our life experiences to? Meaning, if a certain archetype is in operation, is the theory that those archetypes determine my behavior? I sometimes feel that the theory doesn’t allow the space for how relationships, early and current, affect us and provide the space for creating unconscious material.
    As an example, alot of people view the movie Black Swam through an archetypal perspective, trying to see what archetypes are in operation for the main character. I would offer that, from an object relations perspective, her inability to integrate her shadow/unconscious had more to do with unhealthy relationship with her mother.

    1. Dear Rob,
      Great question! My answer to your question is, “Both.” We’re all furnished with the same archetypal patterns, but because of our life experiences and genetic inheritance we fill them in differently. So the way I see/experience the activation of my King or Queen, for instance, can be positive or negative, depending on my experiences with authority figures, and even though the King and Queen have certain universal qualities, the way I see/experience/manifest mine will be somewhat different from the way you see/experience/manifest yours. And all this also depends on other factors like age and emotional maturity. Thus, when my King is activated in me he will influence me to behave certain ways in relationships depending on my ideas (conscious and unconscious) about him, in combination with the symbols and images and emotional complexes I associate with him.
      So, yes, the movie Black Swan is about the archetypes which have been activated in the main character’s psyche and how she is behaving as a result. Her unhealthy relationship with her mother has not only shaped her relationships to authority figures (King and Queen archetypes), but also her ambitions to attain power and success (Warrior and Earth Mother archetypes.)
      So what you say is exactly right: her inability to integrate her shadow/unconscious is a function of her unhealthy relationship with her mother; and (I would add) it is likewise a function of how her archetypes developed as a result of this relationship.
      I’ll be saying more about these issues in the next few posts. Hopefully they will help clear things up for you!
      I very much appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to comment.
      My best,

  4. Hi Jeanie,
    Thank you for your thought-provoking post. You inspired this little story which expresses a tiny bit of where I am with religion at the moment.
    One day I found God sitting on a park bench in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. He looked depressed as he tossed bread crumbs to the pigeons. Taking a deep breath, I sat down next to him. He barely looked up as he moved his bag of bread over to make room for me. We sat in silence a long time. I wondered what to say to him. He looked so sad. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke first.
    “Nice weather, eh?”
    “Yes, you made a pretty sky,” I said.
    “Me? I didn’t make the sky look pretty.”
    “You didn’t? I thought you made everything.”
    “That’s a myth…Well, no, let me use a different word: “lie.” “That is a lie.”
    “Lie?” I said surprised, “What do you mean?”
    “Why do my children so willingly give their power away? This sky,” He said, gesturing towards the late afternoon autumn sky, “the people of this town made it. They’re collectively in a good mood; they’re living right, so the sky is clear, sunlit, full of fluffy white clouds.”
    “Wait, wait,” I said, “You’re not suggesting that the collective moods of the citizens effect the weather?”
    “Effect? Make.”
    “We make the weather?”
    “So what do you make?”
    “Oh, I make the raw ingredients for the weather. I make you. I make a lot of things.”
    “I see.”
    “Do you?”
    “Thought so.”
    “Listen God, you’re telling me some pretty outrageous stuff here. It’s not that easy for my finite mind to grasp all this.”
    “Finite mind?”
    “You’re the infinite one. We’re the finite ones.”
    “Says who?”
    “You did…didn’t you? In the bible someplace?”
    “OK, so now you’re suggesting I have an infinite mind, like yours.”
    “Not suggesting. Telling. I gave each of my children a spark of my own mind. That makes your mind infinite.”
    “Yes, but where did I get the idea that my mind was limited and yours unlimited?”
    “The people who write that sort of thing are scared of their own divinity. They can’t handle the responsibility. Even worse, many can’t handle the joy, the sheer joy of being unlimited.”
    “So they put words in your mouth and say you say things that you didn’t just to justify their own beliefs?”
    “More or less, yes. People are always giving me credit for things I didn’t do and devaluing themselves. They do something great and say, “Wow, look what God did!” But I didn’t do it. They did. They blame me for disasters, wars, abuse, everything—good or bad. I didn’t create victims. I created princes and princesses.”
    “Is that why you look so sad?”
    I looked out over the growing flock of pigeons as his bag of bread crumbs was never ending. He handed me a piece of bread to throw to them.
    “Is there anything else you need to talk about?” I asked, chucking the bread into the sea of coo’s and glimmering feathers.
    “I’m tired,” said God, “tired of people using my most common name, and twisting it to mean such horrible things. I created people not so they would believe in me, but in themselves. The sad truth is most people do not truly believe in me. If they did, they would lead wonderful, unlimited, joyous, creative, compassionate lives. If they only for a few seconds everyday took the time to remember how powerful they are, how I just want them happy, how I don’t need their praise, how they have it within themselves and the people around them to have everything they ever needed to be happy.”
    As He spoke, great tears formed in his eyes and trickled down his face and into his beard of stars and snow.
    I put my hand on his. He broke down completely, sobbing like a baby. I held him in my arms for hours; so long the pigeons began landing on us. He cried all night, and I held him all night, wondering at the mystery of it all.

  5. You said that Carl Jung believed we all have a religious instinct to discover the great mystery. For me that would be a spiritual instinct. The term religion conjures up a whole set of beliefs based on the different cultural teaching, evolution or whatever. I think the religions came up out of the search for connection with the great mystery, to sort of help our human brains grasp the enormity of it all. Really, I think its our biology that gets in the way of our divine. I loved your idea about the changing of the god image and comparing it with a person’s changing view of their parents. That brought some clarity for me with my changing view with god, spirituality and religion. Before, I had a felt sense of understanding about my changing view but with your help I can see that it is part of my self awareness in psychological terms.

    1. Hi Jazzminey,
      Yes, I agree with you about “spiritual” instinct being a better descriptor than “religious” instinct, and for the same reason you suggest. Jung wrote this at least 60 to 80 years ago, when the term “religion” did not have all the negative connotations it does now. Organized religions are cultural phenomena and can get in the way of universal understanding and peace, but the sense of wonder, awe, and mystery the word “spiritual” brings to mind transcends cultures and is understandable to everyone.
      I’m thrilled that you found meaning in my comparison between our god-images and parent-images. To elicit the response you had was my purpose.
      I’m grateful for your comments and support! Thank you for stopping by.
      My best,

  6. In our local park there is a bench on which there is a small plaque, which reads:
    In Honor of the Divine Essence within each of us.
    “There is a voice that doesn’t use words … LISTEN.” Rumi

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